The length of time it takes for a deer to decompose varies greatly according to environmental factors around the carcass. A deer carcass that is left to decompose without interference from scavengers may take around six months to completely decompose to bones.
Scavengers play a very important role in the decomposition of deer. They help eat the flesh from the bones and scattered the pieces exposing them to other agents of decomposition.
By puncturing the skin, they help in the circulation of oxygen into and out of the body which plays a big role in its decomposition.
Weather is also known to affect the rate of decomposition. Carcasses are known to decompose faster during summer when temperatures are high. Cold temperatures are known to preserve the body.
What is Decomposition?
Decomposition is the process where dead organic matter is broken down into simple organic and inorganic matter
All organic matter once dead needs to be broken down. If this did not happen, bodies and dead plants would be all over the world.
Decomposition helps in returning nutrients ingested back to the ground. Farmers have been known to decompose compost and add it to their to the soil in their farm to increase nutrients in the soil. Dead leaves that decompose on the forest floor add nutrients back to the soil which helps the forest to thrive.
Factors That Influence The Rate of Decomposition
Various factors influence the rate of decomposition. Below are some of them.
Warmer temperatures promote decay. This is because they are favorable for bacteria activities. Cold temperatures inhibit bacterial activity. It is not uncommon for decomposition not to occur at extreme cold temperatures.
Research shows that moisture plays an important role in the decomposition of dead matter. The higher the moisture content in the carcass the faster it is able to decompose.
Mummification occurs when the body has low moisture content and is exposed to extremely high temperatures. The body is normally preserved at this state because bacterial activities are not able to complete.
Oxygen influences aerobic bacterial activity. This means that the higher the oxygen levels the faster the rate of decomposition.
Insects like blowflies are attracted to rotting matter. They lay their eggs on open surfaces of the carcass which hatch into maggots.
The maggots crawl into the body, damage soft tissue while burrowing into them, liquefying the body and increasing heat. They feed on the dead body and later on emerge as adult flies.
5. Season / Climate
During fly season decomposition rates are higher. This is because of the availability of more flies which means that more maggots will be present to helping the decomposition of the carcass.
6. Animal Activity
scavengers are known to pick through dead bodies and find whatever is edible and eat it. While feeding, they end up scattering some of the body parts exposing them to other agents off decomposition.
What Decomposes a Deer?
A class of animals known as decomposers are responsible for the breaking down of dead matter. They include, fungi, bacteria, worms and insects.
Decomposers are animals that get their energy by feeding on dead plants and animals. They are also known for breaking down animal waste from which they get energy.
They play a very important role of keeping energy flowing throughout the ecosystem. By breaking down organic matter into simpler inorganic matter they make nutrients available for primary consumers.
Worms do not necessarily fall under decomposers. They are commonly known as detritivores. Worms, unlike bacteria who absorb the nutrients directly from their surroundings, feed on and digest their food internally.
What Happens When a Deer Decomposes?
When a deer decomposes, their flesh, internal organs and skin is completely broken down leaving behind only bones which take longer to decompose.
The dead body passes through several stages before it is completely disintegrated too bones. Below at the five stages in which the body Undergoes.
Stage One: Fresh
This is the stage a few hours after the animal dies. Blood stop circulating throughout the body and the limbs start stiffening due to chemical changes in the muscles.
The remains are free of insects. Blood flows and settles on the lower side closest to the ground. Body temperatures either drop or rise to match those of the surroundings.
Stage Two: Bloat
It is during this stage that bacteria present in the human body begins to digest the tissues. This activity causes them to release gases that fill the body making it to bloat.
The body starts emitting a foul smell as the bacteria do their work. The pressure exerted by the gases in the body forces fluids out through openings in the body.
The foul smell attracts blowflies which come and lay their eggs in the body. The maggots hatch and start feeding on body tissues that detach from the skin causing it to slip.
Stage Three: Active Decay
As bacteria and insects breakdown muscles and other organs a lot of mass is lost. Liquids released into the surrounding also contributes to the loss of body mass.
Body tissues liquefy and the skin turns black.
Stage Four: Advanced Decay
It is during this stage that the decomposition of tissues and cells together with the liquefaction of the body is almost complete. Most of the remains have darkened.
A lot of nutrients have been released into the soil surrounding the body increasing its fertility.
Stage Five: Dry Remains
Most of the body tissues and skin have already been decomposed and all that remains is a dry skeleton with perhaps some hair left.
Insects like beetles come and eat anything that might be left. The bones change in color and lighten up because of exposure to the sun. They are eventually covered up and disappear into the earth.
What to Do with a Decomposing Deer?
It is advisable to try and dispose of the body before it starts decomposing. This is to avoid other animals coming into contact with the dead body and avoid the foul smell from filling the area.
When other animals accidentally come into contact with the deer they might get infected by diseases carried by the dead deer. The sickness might spread throughout the herd causing many animals to get sick and die.
The best thing to do is to try and bury the body leaving it to decompose in the soil. This will release nutrients directly into the soil while avoiding anything coming into contact with the body.
If the animal died in a hard to reach place like at the bottom of a ledge, you can speed up the decomposition process by piercing the skin, increasing air circulation in and out of the carcass.
To avoid the foul smell, try pouring large amounts of lime and if possible vinegar to neutralize the smell.
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Deer decomposition has its own advantages as it means that nutrients are able to return to the earth which will be used by other organisms.
It however produces foul smells and attracts disease spreading insects like blowflies. It is however a natural process that must occur.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.