AppearanceThe chital's coat is pinkish fawn, marked with white spots, and its underparts are also white.
Its antlers, which it sheds annually, are usually three-pronged and curve in a lyre shape and may extend to 75 cm.
Compared to the hog deer, its close relative, the chital has a more cursorial build. It also has a more advanced morphology with antler pedicles being proportionally short and its auditory bullae being smaller. It also has large nasals.
The male chital averages about 90 cm tall at the shoulder, with a total length of 170 cm. Males, at a typical weight of 30 to 75 kg, are a somewhat larger than females, at 25 to 45 kg. Exceptionally large males can weigh up to 98 to 110 kg. The lifespan is around 8–14 years.
Chital have well-developed preorbital glands which have hairs that are like stiff little branches. They also have well-developed metatarsal glands and pedal glands on their hind legs. Males have larger preorbital glands than females and are opened very often in response to certain stimuli.
StatusThe Chital is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern "because it occurs over a very wide range within which there are many large populations". Currently there are no range-wide threats to chitals and they live in many protected areas.
BehaviorAxis deer most commonly occur in herds of ten to fifty individuals of both sexes. Large dominant stags without velvet stay in the center of the herd and are surrounded by the females and their young.
Smaller stags with velvet occupy the boundaries of the herd. Chital stags pay close attention when a stag of equal size to them enters their group. They will follow, graze with and display to the newcomer.
Sparring is more common between young stags while older, larger stags prefer horning, pawing and marking. Large stags with hard antlers are more likely to be well spaced out. Stags are known to stand on their hind legs and mark tree branches above.
Chital are generally silent when grazing together. They do however make high-pitched chuckles when walking. When grazing chital do a "courtesy posture" when they pass each other.
The bellow of a chital stag exists in a primitive state of development compared to other deer like the red deer or elk. Its calls is one or several coarse bellows and loud growls, which may be weaker versions of the bellow.
Bellowing coincides with rutting. Stags guarding estrous females will make high-pitched growls at lesser stags that hung about. Stag will also moan during aggressive displays or when resting.
When alarmed, chital will bark. These barks usually occur among females and juveniles and is repeated back and forth. Fawns that are separated from their mothers will squeal. When in danger, they run in groups. They will make bursts of high-speed running and then soon tire and dive into heavy cover to hide.
HabitatThe spotted deer is found in large numbers in dense deciduous or semi-evergreen forests and open grasslands. The highest numbers of Chital are found in the forest of India where they feed upon tall grass and shrubs.
Chital have been also spotted in Phibsoo wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan which is the only remaining natural Sal forests in the country. They do not occur at higher elevation forests where they are usually replaced by other species such as the Sambar deer. They also prefer heavy forest cover for shade and are intolerant of direct sunlight.
ReproductionThe chital has a protracted breeding season due in part to the tropical climate, and births can occur throughout the year. For this reason, males do not have their antler cycles in synchrony and there are some fertile females at all times of the year.
Males sporting hard antlers are dominant over those in velvet or those without antlers, irrespective of their size and other factors. Stags commonly bellow during the rut.
Chital hinds have three week long estrous cycles. Chital courtship is based on tending bonds. A stag will follow and guard a hind in estrous. During this time the stag will not eat. The pair will do several bouts of chasing and mutual licking before copulation.
Hinds birth one fawn, rarely two, at a time. Young fawns suckle longer than older fawns which suckle for 55 seconds. Hinds and fawns have loose bonds and it is common for them to get separated. However because chital tend to stay close to each other it is not difficult for a hind to find a fawn. Fawns sometimes gather in nurseries.
FoodChital are primarily grazers and feed on short, sprouting grasses. However they will also browse as well as eat forbs, fruit and branches of trees, especially when they are thrown down by monkeys.
Stags, more than hinds, will stand on their hind legs on feed on tree foliage. Chital also eat their shed antlers as a source of nutrients and will use mineral licks.
Chital prefer to be near water and will drink mornings and evenings in hot weather.
PredatorsPredators of the chital include tigers, Asiatic lions, leopards, dholes and mugger crocodiles. Red foxes also sometimes prey on chital fawns. Hinds and fawns are more likely to be victims of predation than adult stags and dholes are more successful in catching stags than tigers and leopards. The chital can run up to 40 mph to escape his predators.
DefenseAn interesting relationship has been observed between herds of axis deer and troops of the Northern Plains Gray Langur, a widespread leaf-eating monkey taxon of South Asia.
Axis deer apparently benefit from the langurs' good eyesight and ability to post a lookout in a treetop, helping to raise the alarm when a predator approaches.
For the langurs' part, the axis deer's superior sense of smell would seem to assist in early predator warning, and it is common to see langurs foraging on the ground in the presence of axis deer. The axis deer also benefit from fruits dropped by the langurs from trees such as ''Terminalia bellerica'' and ''Phyllanthus emblica''. Alarm calls of either species can be indicative of the presence of a predator such as a tiger.
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