Michael Cove, a scientist in the Florida Keys who is researching the impact of free-roaming cats on endangered tiny animals, was reviewing film from concealed cameras when he came upon something unexpected and very charming.
Wild deer on the islands were captured on video canoodling with cats and raccoons, according to the cameras. And scientists aren’t sure how to interpret it.
We get this all the time in the Keys….interesting that it is happening on islands. Certainly a pathway for disease transmission. pic.twitter.com/xDZ4Ngjz8G
— Mike Cove (@mike_cove) October 12, 2017
“I’ve been researching raccoons and other mesocarnivores for over a decade (primarily using video traps),” Cove told The Dodo. “This was the first time I’d ever seen them engage with another mammal in a mutualistic manner.”
Mutualistic describes how indifferent both parties appear to be about the contact, implying that it is enjoyable for everyone. In a study on the subject, Cove stated, “We collected a camera trap series of 80 images in which a Key deer engaged with two northern raccoons.” “For nearly a minute, one of the raccoons combed the deer’s face.” Because the deer seemed unconcerned and willingly remained motionless throughout the physical touch, this relationship appears mutualistic.”
Cove isn’t the only one with this problem. Another scientist, Chris Lowe, who specializes in sharks, saw a deer on Catalina Island, off the coast of California, approaching a fox and kissing his small head.
The common thread appears to be creatures that dwell on islands, and Cove has some theories as to why island mammals are particularly cuddly.
I know it’s not a shark, but I saw a buck licking an Island fox’s head today. Never seen that before! pic.twitter.com/Fxngr8Hkr2
— Chris Lowe (@CSULBsharklab) October 11, 2017
It’s possible that deer that have lived on islands for centuries have relaxed their guard in the absence of predators, allowing them to act on their curiosity about other animals. However, it’s possible that deer and raccoons are more likely to come into touch since they dwell in close quarters on islands.
Cove adds out that being cuddly raises the risk of disease spreading between species, and given that Key deer are an endangered species, they should be particularly cautious not to cuddle up to the wrong raccoon.
On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for deer on the mainland to snuggle up to other animals, such as domestic cats, leaving everyone perplexed.
“We’re increasingly understanding that animals, like humans, have distinct personalities,” biologist Gary Roemer told The Atlantic. “They do strange things sometimes,” says the narrator.