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Tooth Extractions From
Live-captured White-tailed Deer


Age is an important attribute of an animal, and knowledge of it is critical to understanding animal ecology. For example, Clutton-Brock et al.'s (1982) comprehensive study of red deer (Cervus elaphus) documented age effects on fat reserves, mortality rate, fecundity, offspring weights, offspring survival, maternal behavior, and social behavior for females. In males, age was related to dominance and reproductive success. However, such analyses often require a high level of accuracy because yearly variation can profoundly influence physiological processes and ecological dynamics. The accuracy rate of aging known-age white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) by tooth eruption and wear (Severinghaus 1949) was only 43%, but it increased to 85% using cementum annuli counts of incisors (Hamlin et al. 2000). Thus, ages determined by eruption and wear are not very useful in examining age effects in white-tailed deer ecology. Surprisingly, examination of 1990-1999 Journal of Wildlife Management publications on odocoilene deer revealed that in only 1 of 17 studies involving live-captures of deer were canines or incisors extracted for aging of cementum annuli. In the 16 other studies, a minimum of 1,163 adult deer were captured. The actual number of adults must have been much larger because age class was not reported in 8 of the studies.

Why would researchers not collect the most accurate age data from a study animal if the opportunity presents itself and the information is potentially relevant? Some studies examined aspects of deer ecology unlikely to be influenced by animal age, and some occurred in southern latitudes where cementum aging appears unreliable. However, not all of the studies fit that profile and 4 of those examined mortality and survival, phenomena directly influenced by age. Three of these aged deer by tooth replacement and wear (Severinghaus 1949), apparently accepting less accurate age data than that potentially available from cementum annuli (Erickson et al. 1970, Gilbert and Stolt 1970). Possibly the researchers considered canine extraction too difficult and time-consuming, or perhaps they were unaware of the technique. My search for information on tooth extraction in ungulates in 3 bibliographic sources produced only Bergerud and Russell's (1966) paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management, a veterinary dentistry book (Wiggs and Lobprise 1997), and 12 papers in the veterinary literature, most only tangential to the topic. Thus, it would not be surprising if wildlife biologists were unfamiliar with tooth extraction from live animals. Herein, I describe incisor and canine extraction from live-captured white-tailed deer and outline a quick, simple procedure that enhances the results and interpretations from long-term studies.

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