The tarsal region of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is an important source of socially significant odors. Because the tarsal provides a suitable environment for microbial growth, we identified bacterial species recovered from the tarsal tufts of 120 hunter-harvested deer to determine if differences occurred between the sexes or among age classes that could be important in odor production. Females tended to have a lower abundance of bacteria on the tarsal tufts (P = 0.06). Bacterial abundance did not differ among age classes of males, and an increase in tarsal staining did not correlate with greater bacterial abundance. Of the 62 species of bacteria identified, Hafnia alvei was recovered most commonly, occurring on 29% of the tarsal tufts. Bacillus was the most common genus isolated, occurring on 91% of the tarsal tufts. Bacterial composition differed among individuals, consistent with the hypothesis that odor production may result from bacterial action on urinary products.
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Vol. 149 • No. 1