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What Darwin’s sexual selection gets you: Antlers in heaven

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This is one of those stories about which one says, I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.

These three Ohio bucks somehow locked antlers while battling near a small creek. When one deer slid into a shallow pool, it sealed the fate for all three, who drowned together, antlers still locked. Steve Hill talked to the men who found and recovered the deer and their combined 400-inches of antler to bring you the story of this sad, almost poetic scene.

Some said, heartlessly, that they’d make a nice chandelier. Others asked sensible questions:

Wildlife biologists are taught that anthropomorphism—endowing the animals they study with human qualities—is not good science. Yet, says Mike Tonkovich, deer project leader for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, “I can’t help wondering what was that third buck thinking? Whatever possessed him to get engaged when the two were already entangled?”

Mmmm … Stupidity? He wasn’t thinking anything? Question: How many times has this happened when no human was around to see it?

But others outgassed on Darwinism:

“It’s kind of neat to see evolution right there in front of you,” says Tonkovich. “This is Darwin stuff, what we learned in biology 101—those that are strongest and smartest will do the breeding. In today’s deer management world, our interest is in population dynamics or growing big bucks and age structures and so forth, but this takes you back to the basics of deer behavior and, even more simply, evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection [sexual selection – d.].”What you’re seeing here is one buck trying to convince another that I need to pass my genes on and I’m gonna do what it takes to make sure it happens. This is a manifestation of that drive.”

Well, if so, it’s not clear how this behaviour helps natural selection at all.

Before I got round to posting this, one friend wrote, “Obviously the species were going to evolve into an aquatic animal. But they forgot to evolve to lose their antlers first.” Another claims they are definitely on the way to becoming freshwater seals.

But now, as the sad story is otherwise wrapping up, about the chandelier, may I offer some …

(Note: Linked graphic scenes are not intended for avid consumers of Bambi films. This is about real wildlife in a real environment, and  the people who mop up the mess.)


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