Does the Friendliness Gene Exist?

Last Summer I wrote about a pair of whitetail fawns growing up in the field beyond the local Elks Lodge. The Lodge sits on one side of a hollow at the base of Pine Mountain, my house is at the top of the mountain,  and my road meanders down the side opposite from the Lodge. There is a large whitetail herd and it’s not uncommon to see the same deer at any spot along the mountain.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

Over the years I have photographed a doe that is easily recognized by a thin white strip on just above her black nose. She is friendly and curious about me and tolerates me approaching her to take photos. I respect her space and back off if she shows any sign of concern. Last year she had two fawns – one with a black nose and one with a white stripe that had a wide spot in the center. Like it’s momma, the one with the white stripe had no concern about my presence and was actually very curious.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn's nose.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn’s nose.

That original doe was one of triplets and was the only one with the white mark. Her sister still stays close and is not at all friendly. She starts snorting almost as soon as I leave my jeep. That friendly doe has had two sets of twins and only one of those has a white stripe and only that one is really friendly like she is. The others have been very cautious and quick to run off. Last year I was lucky to get so close to the friendly fawn on several occasions.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetails use their tails like flags when alarmed - the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetail use their tails like flags when alarmed – the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

I watched a documentary about the domestication of wolves – the forefathers of dogs. Humans and wolves have always interacted – wolves feeding off of livestock or the trash of people. In a pack of wolves there is usually one or two who are bolder around humans. These wolves are the ones who make friends with humans and by doing so they can secure food and comfort for the pack – they are like ambassadors. Scientists have found that these dogs share a genetic marker and they call it the friendliness gene. This marker is also found in domesticated dogs today.

Not that this has anything to do with whitetail deer, but it got me thinking about why some deer are curious and some are flighty. The deer have no need to befriend me for food. I do find it an interesting coincidence that all of the deer in our small herd who are comfortable and even curious about me and my camera seem to have a similar white stripe on their nose – is it nature or nurture? Does the original doe’s boldness embolden some of her fawns?

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Of course winter comes and the whitetail move deep into the hollow. I put my thoughts about this friendly trait away for winter. The deer stay away from the field once hunting season opens and have yet to make an appearance there this year. I have seen a couple on the roadside running into the woods, so they are on the move.

A couple of days ago I saw a deer ahead of me on the road. It didn’t bolt – it just looked my way and walked leisurely into the woods. I pulled up along side and it looked over its shoulder at me…

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

I stayed in the jeep – opened the passenger window and snapped a few shots. I was taken aback by how long the young whitetail looked at me and at its calm demeanor. And then I saw it…

20130321-121924.jpgThis was not any yearling, this was my friendly fawn. No wonder it showed no concern for me, it knows me. It survived the winter in the hollow and is now roaming over the hills.

It’s nice to catch up with old friends.

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220 thoughts on “Does the Friendliness Gene Exist?

  1. Pingback: 2013 – Ten shots that I love | the eff stop

  2. Pingback: It’s a boy! An Update to on the Friendly Fawn | the eff stop

  3. What an awesome post! I love animals, so I especially loved the photos and story here. Thanks for sharing it. I was sorting through the way-back Freshly Pressed page and was thrilled to see you there. Congrats to you!

  4. One of the most joyful things to notice is the life around us. Seeing wild life where you had not expected it. Once my wife had claimed she had seen a Wild boar inside our town. I thought she just got frightened from a big dog until I had seen a herd of eighteen wild boars walking near the rode. Not a refined look like a deer, but still so beautiful.

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