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A herd of up to nine blacktail deer have taken to spending their days on this hill, here joining the horses of Point Reyes Arabians for a late-afternoon snack.

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California’s Department of Fish and Game has estimated that well over half the roughly 560,000 deer in California are Columbian blacktails, the deer native to West Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Mutual friends. Two blacktail does licking each other’s coats.

For years many people believed (and many websites still say) that blacktails are a subspecies of mule deer, a species found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas. DNA tests, however, have now found mule deer to be a hybrid of female whitetail deer and blacktail bucks. Or so says author Valerius Geist in Mule Deer Country.

mule_deer-238.jpgWhitetails first appeared on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago, as this blog previously noted. DNA evidence suggests they spread south and then west, arriving in California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament. Blacktails eventually extended their range eastward, meeting up with more whitetails coming from the east. Apparently the blacktail bucks were able to horn in on the harems of their parent species. The result: mule deer.

Mule deer as seen on the website of Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills. The deer are so named because of their long ears.

And for an amazing look at a whitetail deer, check this YouTube clip of one running into the path of a motorcycle on a mountain highway — but avoiding a collision by jumping over the biker as he ducks.