Does Lateral Presentation of the Palmate Antlers During Fights by Fallow Deer (Dama dama L.) Signify Dominance or Submission?


Dómhnall Jennings Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York, Y010 5DD, UK. E-mail:


A central aim of the study of animal communication is to identify the mode and content of information transferred between individuals. The lateral presentation of the antler palm between male fallow deer has been described as either a signal of individual quality or an attempt to avoid fighting. In the first case two phenotypic features have been proposed by which transmission of individual quality may be facilitated. These are antler size and antler symmetry. The alternative hypothesis proposes that the lateral presentation of antlers occurs as a consequence of averting a threatening posture and may signify a reluctance to fight. We examined whether mature fallow deer use lateral palm presentation as a display during fights to indicate antler size and symmetry. We found no relationship between presentation rate of the antler and antler size and symmetry. Furthermore, males did not preferentially present their larger antler to their opponent. We also investigated whether the rate at which males presented antlers laterally during a fight was related to their ability to win the fight. Our results show that the male who performed more presentations during a fight was more likely to lose it. There were behavioural differences in the way in which a bout of presentation ended; subsequent losers tended to turn their body away from their opponent and subsequent winners tended to lower their antlers to an opponent which we interpret as an invitation to continue fighting. We conclude that the lateral palm presentation serves to de-escalate fighting between mature fallow deer. It is not a mechanism by which to communicate individual quality but rather an indication that a male is less committed to continuing investment in the current contest.