Video of a whitetail deer enjoying an unusual snack in Texas has recently gone viral. Posted by Trey Reinhart on Instagram, the video shows a whitetail deer looking for all the world like she's wrangling a particularly-chewy spaghetti noodle as she stares at the camera and munches on a two-foot-long snake of unknown species.
While some commenters have speculated that the whitetail was trying to dislodge the snake after it had bitten the deer, the National Deer Association Director of Conservation Matt Ross told Outdoor Life that he believed the deer was eating the snake.
This begs the question: Why was a supposedly herbivorous animal eating meat?
A recently published paper in Austral Ecology says it right in the title: 'Herbivores but not vegans: Deer as nest predators.' While deer's teeth are designed to process plants, deer have also been known to eat animals, too, including songbirds and eggs.
The authors of the aforementioned study noticed this phenomenon when they placed artificial nests in the wetlands of Patagonia. Camera traps showed Fallow and Red deer approaching the nests and devouring the eggs. This behavior aligns with previous studies that observed deer eating songbird nestlings, foraging for Northern bobwhite eggs in Georgia, and biting the heads of Manx shearwater chicks.
And it's not just birds' eggs and snakes: Game cameras and videos have also shown deer eating dead doves and roadkill squirrels. In a series of spooky camera stills, one deer is even seen eating human remains at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility at Texas State University, where scientists study how human bodies decompose.
Food shortages, particularly during and after harsh winters, make it difficult for herbivores like deer to obtain vital nutrients, such as vitamin D, salts, and calcium, from their usual diet. These deficiencies may lead them to seek out nutrients from other sources, such as meat.
Despite being more omnivorous than herbivorous in times of need, deer are not predators in the usual sense. Beyond the occasional easy-picking predation of birds' eggs and nestlings, most meat-eating done by deer is opportunistic, as seen in the video of the deer eating the already-dead dove and roadkill squirrel.
In the new viral video of the Texas whitetail, the deer likely found the snake dead on the side of the road and did not kill the reptile herself. And, while the whitetail may have been looking for some additional nutrients, Ross thinks that the deer could have also just been curious, with the snake offering a tasty, textural change from her usual diet of grasses and leaves.
As one commenter put it, she could have just been enjoying a 'meat Fruit Roll Up'.