Leaf deer (also known as leaf muntjacs), Muntiacus putaoensis, have been discovered in the Indo-Malayan ecozone and the Sino-Himalayan subregion of the Palearctic ecozone, which both extend across Asia. This geographic range is not surprising as it is consistent with the distribution of the entire Muntiacus genus, which is widespread in Asia. Specifically, leaf deer have been recently described in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is rich in biodiversity. Leaf deer have also been previously described in northern Myanmar (Burma) and China. Leaf deer were identified in 1997, and due to this recent discovery, the extent of their geographic range is still being determined.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
The known elevational range based on camera-trap data is from 700 m to 1,220 m asl in Myanmar (R.J. Timmins and Than Zaw pers. comm. 2008, based on WCS unpublished data); Indian specimens were reported by hunters to have come from 900–1,100 m asl (Datta et al. 2003). Amato et al. (1999b) stated that the leaf muntjac “resides ‘on mountain tops’ while the other two larger sympatric species, the common [northern red] muntjac, M. muntjak, and the [a taxon allied to] black muntjac, M. crinifronset al. (1999) made a similar statement that the species was only found on “distant hilltops” away from village areas from 1,600 to 2,000 m asl. These statements are not consistent with more specific information from Myanmar and India, above.
Leaf deer are among the smallest known muntjacs. Their common name is derived from the practice of hunters wrapping their small bodies in a single Phrynium capitatum leaf. Their specific epithet is derived from the town they where they were first discovered, Putao, Myanmar.
Leaf deer are small cervids, commonly referred to as "fossil" deer, possessing "ancient deer" features. They currently represent the smallest known species of muntjacs, standing an average of 50 cm at the shoulder and weighing no more than 15 kg, with an average body weight of 12 kg (± 1.1 kg). They have an average head-body length of 80 cm (± 3 cm) and an average tail length of 10 cm (± 1.6 cm).
Leaf deer have small, rounded ears, with an average length of about 7.1 cm, which are more often than not, ripped and damaged. They have a patch of longer hair, forming a tuft in their forehead region. Generally, leaf deer are similar to common muntjacs, with reddish yellow pelage and a darkened anterior portion of their legs. They have dark facial markings that extend to the crown of their heads and have white ventral fur. Pelage coloration is variable, contingent on the particular individual, their age group, as well as the season of observation. Female leaf deer have been noted to be darker in early spring than early summer. This variation in pelage may be an adaptation to their woody environment and assist in avoiding predator detection. Leaf deer fawns are a rich chestnut color, but in contrast to common or Reeve's muntjacs, leaf deer fawns lack spots. As leaf deer fawns age, their pelage fades from a rich chestnut to the yellowish brown seen in adults. Leaf deer fawns reach adult height by the first year after birth, but may not reach adult weight for several years.
They show no sexual dimorphism in body size, but male and female leaf deer do differ in the presence or absence of antlers. Male leaf deer antlers are relatively short, ranging from 1 to 6 cm and, consistent with other muntjacs, are grown on large pedicels. Contrary to other muntjacs, leaf deer pedicels curve inward, causing the gap between the pointed, single-tine antlers to be small. Antlers are occasionally cast from deer that are at least 20 to 22 months old, but it is not a regular occurrence and is more commonly associated with older males. Most male cervids cast their antlers regularly and do not mate until after their antlers are hard again; however, muntjacs do not follow this pattern.
A feature of leaf deer that is not common to the entire genus is the presence of prominent frontal glands. Likewise, their skulls have large pre-orbital fossa. Another unique feature of leaf deer is the presence of tusks, formed from enlarged canines. These tusks have an average length of 2.4 cm and are often damaged or scraped. Their maximum skull length is about 20 cm, with an average of 17.5 cm (± 0.39 cm). They have an average nasal length of 4.7 cm (± 0.37 cm), an average nasal width of 1.6 cm (± 0.15 cm) and an average braincase width of 4.7 cm (± 0.3 cm). Their dental formula is (i 0/3, c 1/1, pm 3/3, m 3/3) X 2 = 34.
Average mass: 12 kg.
Average length: 80 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: ornamentation
Leaf deer occupy the forests of isolated mountainous regions. They inhabit a wide array of forest types including tropical evergreen rainforests, sub-tropical hill forests and warm and cool temperate rainforests. Leaf deer have been observed at a range of elevations, from tropical evergreen forests at 800 m, to cool temperate rainforests at 3,000 m. Recently, leaf deer have been spotted in Arunachal Pradesh, which has 82% forest cover and high annual rainfall. There have also been reports of leaf deer inhabiting isolated mountains of both the Palearctic and Indo-Malayan ecozones. In China, leaf deer have been described along the western escarpment of the Yunnan Province and in mid-temperate areas with high floral densities.
Range elevation: 800 to 3000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Habitat and Ecology
Given their similarity to a hypothetical ancient deer group, it is suspected that leaf deer are selective browsers of dense forests. Stomach content analyses have revealed that they are frugivores; the majority of their stomach contents consisted of partially digested fruits. Members of genus Muntiacus have been described as “nibblers”, preferring to eat fallen fruits. When they do browse, they are selective and only consume buds, flowers or the blades of leaves. Their morphology reflects their feeding habit; they have long tongues and wide lower incisors, both of which aid in collecting fallen fruit. This morphology can be contrasted to that of large grazers, who have large cutting incisors. Muntjacs move slowly while feeding, keeping their nose close to the ground and only moving a small distance.
Plant Foods: leaves; fruit; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore )
There are no reports regarding the roles that leaf deer may play in an ecosystem. We can speculate, due to the knowledge of their diet, that leaf deer may hold an important role in dispersing seeds of fruit on which they feed. They digest the ovaries of the fruit and upon defecation; they may excrete the seeds in a variety of areas.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Other than humans, there are no documented predators specific to leaf deer. They are often shot by hunters or trapped in bear claw traps. Given the distribution of leaf deer in Asian areas, possible predators include: tigers, leopards, Asian black bears and Asiatic wild dogs.
Life History and Behavior
Members of the genus Muntiacus are known as barking deer. Methods of communication specific to leaf deer are not currently known; however, the presence of traits across the rest of the genus imply leaf deer may also have similar characteristics. Indian muntjacs and Reeve's muntjacs produce sharp, dog-like barks. It is hypothesized that muntjac deer produce these calls in response to visual stimuli, such as predators, in the dense forests where visibility is restricted. This may serve as a warning to other nearby individuals or as a pronouncement of vigilance, a form of anti-predator behavior.
Communication Channels: acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Information regarding the lifespan of the leaf deer is currently unknown.
Specific information on the mating systems of leaf deer has yet to be discovered.
Most male cervids cast their antlers regularly and do not mate again until their antlers are hard, which results in a regular birthing pattern, given that mating only occurs during certain months. Leaf deer do not exhibit a regular birthing pattern; rather, fawns are born during all months of the year. Although there are reports of higher reproductive outputs during certain times of the year, consistent with common muntjacs and Reeve's muntjacs, there is no defined reproduction pattern. In particular, pregnant and lactating females have been observed in early May, suggesting a higher breeding output in the late spring.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
The level of parental investment shown by leaf deer is unclear. However, reports of a sub-species of Indian muntjacs, Muntiacus muntjac malabaricus, indicate that female juveniles stay with their mothers longer than male juveniles. Fawns have been observed moving with their mothers, but usually spend their first two months immobile.
The conservation status of leaf deer is listed as data deficient. As with many other facts about this recently discovered species, population information is difficult to collect due to their solitary lifestyle and habitat preference. Leaf deer ranges could be larger than what is currently known and as a result, conclusions regarding conservation status cannot be made. Hunting of muntjacs in Arunachal Pradesh was prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, although documentation suggests hunting has persisted since then. In Myanmar, leaf deer occupy regions outside any protection areas. More observations need to be made to make further conclusions about leaf deer. They occupy isolated mountainous regions in areas that are relatively inaccessible, due to the rugged nature of the landscape as well as political instability. These factors have made travel for observations rather cumbersome and possibly dangerous.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Rabinowitz et al. (1999) suggested that this species and other muntjacs are less adaptable than other deer, and that this might explain the ‘restricted’ ranges of this and other small muntjacs. However, the thee most widespread muntjacs, M. muntjak, M. vaginalis, and M. reevesi, are very successful: they use a wide variety of forested habitats, and are well able to exploit secondary and degraded habitats. Secondly, and contrary to the statements of Rabinowitz et al. (1999) and others, which have not taken into account the patchiness of suitable surveying, the ‘small’ muntjacs comprising the M. rooseveltorum species-complex are not particularly restricted in range, but are rather widespread in montane areas of northern southeast Asia. The lack of evidence of the complex from many areas, giving an apparent disjunct distribution, is much more likely to reflect the paucity of suitable surveys than the genuine distribution pattern. Survey work in southwest and southeast China, much of Myanmar, the Himalayan region and northern and western Thailand have certainly been insufficient to conclude anything about the range of this species-complex in those regions.
Muntjac-leather jackets are an almost ubiquitous status appareil in Myitkyina and other Kachin state towns, although there is no information on the proportions of the different muntjac species used in their manufacture (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008). Even in advance of any further taxonomic understanding it can be assumed that hunting management activities are likely to be a conservation need for this muntjac; if it is a species with limited resilience to hunting, such measures are urgently needed.
There are surveys currently underway in India (Arunachal Pradesh), especially within the Namdapha Tiger Reserve (Datta et al., 2003).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no recorded negative impacts of leaf deer on humans.
Leaf deer are relatively important economically for humans in the Indian and Asian areas. They are heavily exploited and are reportedly easy to capture with bear traps and are often shot by hunters. The meat of leaf deer is eaten and their skins are sold for leather.
Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material
The leaf muntjac, leaf deer or Putao muntjac (Muntiacus putaoensis) is a small species of muntjac. It was discovered in 1997 by biologist Alan Rabinowitz during his field study in the isolated Naungmung Township in Myanmar. Rabinowitz discovered the species by examining the small carcass of a deer that he initially believed was the juvenile of another species; however, it proved to be the carcass of an adult female. He managed to obtain specimens, from which DNA analysis revealed a new cervid species. Local hunters knew of the species and called it the leaf deer because its body could be completely wrapped by a single large leaf.
Distribution and habitat
The leaf muntjac is uniquely found in dense forests of Myanmar, in the Hukawng Valley region to the Northeast of Putao, hence its scientific epithet, and to the south of the Nam Tamai branch of the Mai Hka River. It is found at an altitude of 450 to 600 m — the transition zone between tropical forests and temperate ones. Its existence in India was first reported from Lohit district in eastern Arunachal Pradesh In 2002, it was reported also to exist in Namdapha Tiger Reserve, also in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, India. It has also been noted from the Lohit and Changlang region and near Noklak in Nagaland. It probably inhabits suitable habitat over the entire junction of the Pātkai Bum and the Kumon Taungdan ranges. In 2008 and 2009, its presence was reported in several new areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
An adult leaf deer stands at just 20 inches (50 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs less than 25 pounds (11 kg). They are light brown. Males have unbranched antlers that are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in height. Other than this, the male and female deer are identical. This species is unusual among other deer because their offspring do not bear any spots. It also differs from other muntjacs because both the male and female have pronounced canine tusks.
- Timmins, R.J., Duckworth, J.W. & Zaw, T. (2008). Muntiacus putaoensis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 5 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of data deficient.
- Rabinowitz, AR; T. Myint; ST Khaing & S Rabinowitz (1999) Description of the Leaf Deer (Muntiacus putaoensis), a new species of muntjac from northern Myanmar. J. Zool. 249:427-435
- Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York: Harper Perennial. p. 260. ISBN 0-06-055804-0.
- Choudhury, A.U. (2003) The mammals of Arunachal Pradesh. Regency Publications, New Delhi. 140pp
- Datta, A;J Pansa; MD Madhusudan & C Mishra (2003) Discovery of the Leaf Deer (Muntiacus putaoensis) in Arunachal Pradesh: an addition to the large mammals of India. Current Science 84:454-458
- Choudhury, A.U. (2007) Discovery of Leaf Deer Muntiacus putaoensis Rabinowitz et al. in Nagaland with a new northerly record from Arunachal Pradesh. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 104(2):205-208
- Choudhury, A.U.(2008). Survey of mammals and birds in Dihang–Dibang Biosphere Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh. Final Report to Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. The Rhino Foundation for Nature in North East India, Guwahati, India. 70 pp.
- Choudhury, A.U.(2009) Records and distribution of Gongshan and leaf muntjacs in India. Deer Specialist Group News 23: 2-7.