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Wingback Marsh Deer (and Swamp Doves) - Fauna
Written By: Ruth Steinback (Writer), Ruth Steinback (Artwork)
Describes the symbiotic relationship between the Wing-Back Marsh Deer and the Swamp Doves which nest in their fur

Animal Name(s): Wingback Marsh Deer (and Swamp Doves)

Description: The wingback marsh deer is perhaps most remarkable for its relationship with the rather unremarkable swamp doves that are found in the same region. The striking silhouette of the marsh deer when seen in the distance appears as though it has multiple small “wings” along its back. Upon closer observation it is now known that these wing-like appendages are actually from perched or nesting swamp doves as they fan their wings out to catch the breeze and seemingly send signals to other birds and perhaps the deer as well.

The marsh deer rely on the doves to help locate their preferred food of choice which is the stalks and tuber style roots of a partially submerged plant. This localized plant can be distinguished by its unique seedpods that form as bulbs at the base of the stalk just above mud level. These seedpods happen to be the swamp doves’ favourite diet though they can only access it with the help of the marsh deer. It is theorized that when the greater habitat turned to swamp the seedpods that then grew at ground level adapted to being submerged. This caused the doves to follow the marsh deer in order to scavenge the seeds when the deer dug the plant up from the mud to get at the roots. The deer may have started following the doves to find crops of this plant throughout the marshland. It is theorized that over time the two species became more dependent on each other until their habits are now very much interlinked. The swamp doves nest in the coarse fur of the deer’s backs, eat pest insects, signal the location of the edible plants or warn of enemies and hazardous sections of swamp. The deer protect the birds from predators, carry their nests to steady supplies of food, provide nesting material in the form of their thick coats, and provide the doves with access to the otherwise inaccessible seedpods of the marsh plant they prefer to eat.

The marsh deer have thick fur coats that cover their main body, neck and upper head. As they adapted to swamp life and rooting around in the muck the fur eventually wore off their nose and legs leaving instead tough leathery skin that is most often caked with mud up to at least their knees. Their skin is generally a mid to dark brown colour, slightly darker than the colour of their fur. Their fur is generally neutral toned brown but has been occasionally noted to have darker flecked variances to the fur or small white patches on some individual deer. The coarse fur of their backs is wonderfully suited to building sturdy matted nests by the swamp doves. Much like seals the deer’s’ noses can be pinched shut if they are rooting underwater. As herbivores their teeth are best for grinding plants but are also aptly suited to splitting open seedpods or tearing grasses free.

The marsh deer have split hooves (somewhat similar to those of goats or camels) that help them root around in the mud and navigate safely on the unstable swamp muck. There are two solid hooves as the front of each foot and two softer almost thumb-like toes at the back of each foot that allow them to have a wider or smaller footprint as needed. The orientation of these toes on their feet also let them partially grasp submerged objects to better root them out to the surface.

Habitat: The marsh deer have several known colonies that range through the extended wetland region but only seem to have adapted in that localized area and live almost exclusively within the swamps. Their thick coats allow them to tolerate both warm and cool temperatures that the marsh is affected by seasonally but they are not exposed to temperatures very much outside of the swamps moderate range of just below freezing to warm with high humidity. It is believed that the region which the marsh deer and swamp doves inhabit was once a temperate forest range before climactic shifts turned it to wetland swamps. It is thought that the species may have adapted from other completely furred deer-like animals that live in parallel ranges outside of the isolated swamp area.

Breeding Habits and Family Units: The swamp deer colonies are large and seem to be made of several extended family groups that will occasionally split off into smaller temporary clans or merge with other groups. It generally takes 2-3 years for a juvenile to mature into adulthood and the adolescents will stay with their parents during for the first year or two of that time. Adult marsh deer seem to be semi-monogamous in their pairings. Some pairs will mate for life; some individuals seem to mate at random, but most form temporary bonds that will last for 4-6 years in order to bring two to three offspring to maturity before choosing new mates. Selection of mates is remarkably casual with little to no aggression between individuals. Competition mostly seems to be in attempting to attract the most number of swamp doves to themselves in order to show their competency in finding food and ability to defend themselves and the birds. Having multiple nests or resident doves therefore will denote the most attractive mates to the wingback marsh deer. They are warm blooded, have live births, and suckle their young for the first year. When near to each other the deer rely mostly on body language and their resident doves to communicate with each other though they will use soft bugling calls to communicate over distance. Newborn deer also will use soft bugles and chuckles to talk to their families for the first year or so before they accumulate resident swamp doves of their own.

Interaction with Humans: Wingback marsh deer are edible to humans but are not often hunted. The deer are very shy but tolerant of individuals that are non-aggressive and keep their distance. Humans can follow the deer in order to travel the safer paths of the swamp and find sources of fresh water therein though due to the unpredictable nature of the swampland this is generally cautioned against. Some deer have been tamed as a source of fur or just as pets but due to their adaptation to the swamp conditions and diet this is a rare occurrence. Their companion doves can also be quite messy outside of the marsh environment and can be quite irritating if they attempt to nest on the humans that have tamed the deer they live on.

Lore: Before humans were able to get close enough to study the marsh deer they had attained a somewhat mythical status as a strange winged monster of the swamps. The silhouette of the deer with the spread wings of the doves seen through low lying fog was very haunting as they faded in and out of distant view. Their soft lowing bugles only amplified their mysterious atmosphere. This somewhat mystic association remains and the sighting of a wingback marsh deer is a sign of good luck to those humans unfortunate enough to get lost in the swamp.

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