Remembering nature is not always perfect

ArrayDecember 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm

By Regional Wildlife Biologist Kendall Marden What do Red Sox slugger Ted Williams’ hitting style and Wildlife Biologists have in common? Scientific observation and analysis are important to both.  Ted Williams was arguably baseball’s greatest hitter and he is well known for using his head more than hands when it came to his amazing accuracy.  Although some days I feel more connection to when Williams said “if you don’t think too good, don’t think too much”, I do enjoy observing the many interesting things that wildlife has to offer. Maine’s regular firearm season on deer during the month of November gives me plenty of chances to observe deer up close.  Maine’s Wildlife Biologists annually put their hands on approximately 30% of  harvested deer.  This gives us access to lots of information used to manage deer in Maine. A keen observer will notice that not all deer look the same.  I often hear someone remark that a “deer must be old since it has so much gray on its face”. The truth is, one of the many variables of how deer look is the color and pattern of their fur.  Some have a lot more white or lighter colored hair around the eyes and mouth (or other body parts) even at a young age.  Some deer have much darker or even black “highlights”.  These are all within the normal coloration for deer, although abnormal variations occur.  Abnormal variations in pigment production cause the distinctive variations of Albinism (all white), leucism/piebald (uniformly light/patchy white), and melanism (appearing black). While Ted Williams was a keen observer of pitches, one of his friendly rivals was a profound orator of the obvious.  One of my favorite Yogi Berraisms is “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be”.  I love that quote as it is applicable to life in so many ways. Most people think of nature as perfect although I am reminded often it is not.  In looking at so many deer I encounter many imperfections each year.  One of the key pieces of information we collect when looking at deer is the age of the animal.  Looking at the  teeth helps to determine the age of the deer.  While most deer have “normal” teeth unlike many humans today (to the enthusiasm of orthodontists and disdain of penny-pinching parents), an occasional deer has crooked teeth.  Recently I came across two rare tooth defects. Normally deer have 6 premolar/molars in the back of the mouth on top and bottom of each side.  In the very front of the mouth on the bottom only they have 8 incisiform teeth.  One particular deer I saw this year had an extra third premolar (7th rear tooth) on each side of the lower jaw.  Very rarely a whitetail deer will have an evolutionary throwback and have “canine” teeth. These canines are fairly small and could easily go unnoticed by someone not familiar with deer teeth.  Since I am always poking around deer jaws it only took a few seconds to notice that one deer I looked at this year had these vestigial canines on the top and bottom of both sides. There are a whole variety of common and rare oddities that occur in nature.  In fact evolution itself occurs through flaws, or changes, in normal traits.  So maybe the world is perfectly imperfect?