22 Nov. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Evolution in Action

The big flashing sign has been repurposed.  No longer does it remind us of the unnecessary speed limit change from 50MPH to 40MPH.  It now reminds us to watch out for deer.  This is not necessarily bad advice, and now that our town has the sign, I suppose we must be reminded of something.  It is "mating season" and the deer are reputed to be especially frisky around now.  Too bad the sign wasn't there 20 years ago, before the deer got smarter.

Did I just say the deer got smarter? 

I did.  And I believe it to be true.  I have had two unpleasant deer encounters.  The first, 16 years ago, occurred when a deer bounded out of nowhere right in front of me.  There was no time to react, and it was only sheer luck that no serious damage was done.  Somehow, the deer's hoof hit my headlight.  The headlight shattered into smithereens, a word I just realized I have never before used in print.  On the other occasion, a year or so later, a deer hit me.  Literally.  I was driving along and a deer bounded out from the side of the road and hit the door of my car.  Unfathomable stupidity, but fortunately for me, at least, it resulted in just a dent in the door. 

The two incidents above were fewer by far than they might have been.  I long before had become accustomed to watching for deer when driving on the local roads, and many times swerved, stopped, or otherwise avoided them as they lounged, bounded, ran, pranced or, most often, sauntered with a fine disregard for their continued individual existence.  But somewhere in the mid-90's, I saw something truly bizarre:  A clumsy deer.  A deer ran into the road ahead of me and while I was preparing to stop, the deer suddenly stopped in his tracks, slid on the pavement, fell to his knees (if that's what deer have), scrambled up, turned around and got off the road in the direction from which he had originally come.  Had I not been paying attention, the deer might have saved his own life by that maneuver!  I thought it was funny because I never saw a deer trip before, but I think it may have been more than that as well.

In the decade and a half since these events, I have found myself attending less and less to the deer.  I see them all the time; their population if anything has increased.  And yet my number of stops and swerves has been reduced to almost none.  They don't stand in the road or bound in front of me.  They politely stay by the side of the road or in the woods and do whatever deer do there instead of "playing chicken" with my car.  I can't remember having to make a panic stop for years.

Are the Deer Evolving?

Without intending to incite any teleological arguments with my use of the term, it seems to me that the answer is "Yes."  Unless there's a hidden deer school where they've acquired a headlight and a battery and put together a science-project explanation for the little bambae, I have to think that a goodly number of the deer that don't respect hurtling machinery didn't live long enough to reproduce.  The ones that did, by instinct or accident, have a road-avoidance gene that is saving them (and me) much grief. 

Although this is speculation on my part, I have enough sample observations over the years to think there may be something to it.

Follow-up 22 November 2006

Well spotted.  You noticed that I did the follow-up even before I committed this blogitem to publication.  After having made myself even more curious by writing this, I typed "deer evolution cars" into Google and the first article that came up says I'm probably wrong.  And yet, I have my observations, which I believe are accurate.  Is this an Asimovian "That's funny"? Is it worthy of true scientific scrutiny?

Richard Factor

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