Indian muntjac

Indian muntjac
Indian muntjac in Manas National Park, India
Scientific classification
Species: M. muntjak
Binomial name
Muntiacus muntjak
(Zimmermann, 1780)
Indian muntjac range
  • Cervus muntjac

The Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), also called red muntjac and barking deer, is a common muntjac deer species in South and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.[1]

It has soft, short, brownish or greyish hair, sometimes with creamy markings. This species is omnivorous, feeding on grass, fruits, shoots, seeds, and birds' eggs, as well as small animals. It sometimes displays even scavenging behavior, feeding on carrion. It gives calls similar to barking, usually upon sensing a predator, hence the common name "barking deer". Muntjac is one of the smallest deer species. Males have short unbranched antlers, which only branch out to a few points, the visible canines of males, and the large postorbital scent glands they use to mark their territory.[2] Its antlers grow annually to about 15 cm (5.9 in) in length from a bony stalk on the top of the head. Males are territorial, and despite their diminutive size, can be quite fierce. They fight each other for territory using their antlers or their tusk-like upper canine teeth, and can even defend themselves against predators.


The species was formerly classified as Cervus muntjac.[3]


The Indian muntjac has a short but very soft, thick, dense coat, especially those living in cooler regions. Coloration of the coat changes from dark brown to yellowish and grayish brown depending on the season. The muntjacs' coat is golden tan on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side of the body, the limbs are dark brown to reddish brown, and the face is dark brown. However, the ears have very little hair which barely covers them. Male muntjacs have very short antlers, about 1–2 inches, usually consisting of only two or three points at the most and protrude from long body hair-covered pedicels on the forehead. Females have tufts of fur and small bony knobs where the antlers are located in males. Males also have slightly elongated upper canines about an inch long that curve slightly outward from the lips and have the capability to inflict serious injury upon other animals or to other members of the population while exhibiting aggression. Males are generally larger than females. The body length of muntjacs varies from 35–53 in and their height ranges from 15–26 in. Unique to the muntjac is the strong musculature of facial scent glands which has been observed to be even stronger in fawns than adults. They are the only species of deer to have frontal glands with a pair of slits on the face in line with the antler pedicles and possess a pair of massive pre-orbital glands. Males have larger glands than females which they use to mark the ground or in some cases other members of their species.[4] Studies of the wear on the molars have been shown to be a reliable method for judging age. Captive muntjac of known and approximately known ages were examined for their molar wear patterns. They were shown to have a curvilinear relationship between age and tooth wear.[5]

Distribution and habitat

The Indian muntjac is among the most widespread but least known of all mammals in South Asia. It is found in Bangladesh, southern China, northeastern India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Archipelago, Sumatra, Bangka Island, Belitung, Java, Bali, and Borneo. This species is most densely located in Southeast Asia.[6]

The Indian muntjac is found in tropical and subtropical deciduous forests, grasslands, savannas, and scrub forests, as well as in the hilly country on the slopes of the Himalayas. They are found at altitudes ranging from sea level up to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They never wander far from water. Also, males usually have their own territories, which may overlap the territories of a few females, but not of another male.

Muntiacua muntjac is a terrestrial mammal. A close survey of the microhabitat of Indian Muntjac in Hainan Island was conducted from 2001 to 2002 by tracking via radio collar the localities of three females and two males. Results showed a favoritism towards shrub grassland, thorny shrub land, and dry savanna over woods, cultivated grass plot and deciduous monsoon forests. Food availability was higher at foraging sites than at bed sites but bed sites had taller and denser vegetation. There was not a significant difference in wet vs dry was found in food abundance so habitat selection seemed to be based upon maximum tree high and canopy diameters.[7]

Ornithodoros indica has been recorded to be a parasite of Indian Muntjac but it is not believed that they would influence the distribution of this deer.[8]

Distribution of subspecies

There are 15 subspecies:[6]

Ecology and behavior

The Indian muntjac is called "barking deer" due to the bark-like sound that it makes as an alarm when danger is present. It is also called "Kakar". Sometimes these deer will bark for an hour or more.

Other than during the rut (mating season) and for the first six months after giving birth, the adult Indian muntjac is a solitary animal. Adult males in particular are well spaced and marking grass and bushes with secretions from their preorbital glands appears to be involved in the acquisition and maintenance of territory.[9] Males acquire territories that they mark with scent markers by rubbing their preorbital glands (located on their face, just below the eyes) on the ground and on trees, scraping their hooves against the ground, and scraping the bark of trees with their lower incisors. These scent markers allow other muntjacs to know whether a territory is occupied or not. Males often fight with each other over these territories, sufficient vegetation, and for primary preference over females when mating using their short antlers and an even more dangerous weapon, their canines. If a male is not strong enough to acquire his own territory, he will most likely become prey to a leopard or some other predator. During the time of the rut, territorial lines are temporarily disregarded and overlap, while males roam constantly in search of a receptive female.

These deer are highly alert creatures. When put into a stressful situation or if a predator is sensed, muntjacs begin making a bark-like sound. Barking was originally thought of as a means of communication between the deer during mating season, as well as an alert. However, in more recent studies, it has been identified as a mechanism used solely in alarming situations meant to cause a predator to realize that it has been detected and move elsewhere or to reveal itself. The barking mechanism is used more frequently when visibility is reduced and can last for over an hour regarding one incident.

Muntjacs exhibit both diurnality and nocturnality.


The Indian muntjacs are classified as omnivores. They are considered both browsers and grazers with a diet consisting of grasses, ivy, prickly bushes, low-growing leaves, bark, twigs, herbs, fruit, sprouts, seeds, tender shoots, bird eggs, and small warm-blooded animals. Indian muntjacs are typically found feeding at the edge of the forest or in abandoned clearings. The muntjacs found in the Nilgiri-Wayand area of south India are always sited in the large tea estates, as they feed mostly on tea seeds. Their large canine teeth help in the processes of retrieving and ingesting food.


The Indian muntjacs are polygamous animals. Females sexually mature during their first to second year of life. These females are polyestrous, with each cycle lasting about 14 to 21 days and an estrus lasting for 2 days. The gestation period is six to seven months and they usually bear one offspring at a time, but sometimes produce twins. Females usually give birth in dense growth so that they are hidden from the rest of the herd and predators. The young leaves its mother after about six months to establish its own territory. Males often fight between one another for possession of a harem of females. Indian muntjacs are distinguished from other even-toed ungulates in showing no evidence of a specific breeding season within the species. Adults exhibit relatively large home range overlap both intersexually and intrasexually, meaning that strict territorialism did not occur but that there was some form of site specific dominance [10]

Evolution and genetics

Paleontological evidence proves that Indian muntjacs have been around since the late Pleistocene epoch at least 12,000 years ago.

Scientists are interested in studying muntjac because between species they have a wide variation in number of chromosomes, in fact the Indian Muntjac has the lowest number of chromosomes of any mammal with males having a diploid number of 7 and females having 6 chromosomes. They are the oldest known members of the deer family, the earliest known deer-like creatures had horns instead of antlers but the muntjac is the earliest known species to actually have antlers. Ancestor to muntjacs is the Dicrocerus Elegans which is the oldest known deer to shed antlers. Other fossils found that deer species experienced a split of the Cervinae from the Muntiacinae, the latter of which remained of similar morphology. Muntjacs of this time during the Miocene were smaller than their modern counterparts. Molecular data has suggested that Indian and Fea’s muntjac share a common ancestor while giant muntjac are more closely related to Reeve’s muntjac. Although the muntjac deer has a long lineage, little has been studied in terms of their fossil record.[11] The female Indian muntjac deer is the mammal with the lowest recorded diploid number of chromosomes, where 2n = 6.[12] The male has a diploid number of 7 chromosomes. The similar Reeves's muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi), in comparison, has a diploid number of 46 chromosomes.[11]


They have played a major role in Southern Asia, being hunted for sport and for their meat and skin. Often, these animals are hunted around the outskirts of agricultural areas, as they are considered a nuisance for damaging crops and ripping bark from trees.


  1. 1 2 Timmins, R. J.; Duckworth, J. W. & Hedges, S. (2016). "Muntiacus muntjak". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T42190A56005589. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T42190A56005589.en. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  2. "ADW: Home". Retrieved 2017-12-02.
  3. "Burmah", Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Vol. IV, 1876, p. 552.
  4. Barrette, C. (1976). "Musculature of facial scent glands in the muntjac". Journal of Anatomy. 122: 61–66.
  5. Chapman, Brown, Rothery (2005). "Assessing the age of Reeve's muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) be scoring wear of the mandibular molars". Zoology. 267: 233–247. doi:10.1017/s0952836905007405.
  6. 1 2 Grubb, P. (2005). "Muntiacus muntjak". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 667. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  7. Teng, Lui, Zeng (2004). "Forage and bed sites characteristic of Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) in Hainan Island, China". Ecological Research. 19: 675–681. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1703.2004.00683.x.
  8. Urmila, Rau, Roa (1971). "Ornithodoros (O.) indica sp. n. (Ixodoidea Argasidae), a Parasite of the Barking Deer in the North-Eastern Frontier Agency of India". The Journal of Parasitology. 57: 432–435. doi:10.2307/3278056.
  9. Eisenberg, JF; McKay, GM (1974). "Comparison of ungulate adaptations in the new world and the old world tropical forests with special reference to Ceylon and the rainforests of Central America". In Geist, V; Walther, F. The behaviour of ungulates and its relation to management (PDF). Morges, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. pp. 584–602.
  10. Odden, Wegge, Morten, Per (2007). "Predicting spacing behavior and mating systems of solitary cervids: A study of hog deer and Indian muntjac". Zoology. 110: 261–270. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2007.03.003.
  11. 1 2 Doris H. Wurster and Kurt Benirschke (12 June 1970). Indian Momtjac, Muntiacus muntiak: A Deer with a Low Diploid Chromosome Number. Science 168(3937):1364-1366.
  12. Kinnear, J.F. (2006). "Chromosomes: How Many?" Nature of Biology Third Edition. Book 2. Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd.

Further reading

  • Hutchins, Michael (ed.) (2004). Muntjacs. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. 15 vols. Detroit: The Gale Group Inc., 2004.
  • Kurt, Fred (1990). Muntjac Deer. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. 1st ed. 5 vols. St. Louis: McGraw-Hill.
  • Nowak, Ronald M. (1999). Muntjacs, or Barking Deer. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th ed. 2 vols. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP.
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