Hoofed animals are some of the most successful herbivores on the planet today. Deer (Cervids) belong to the Order Artiodactyla, hoofed mammals with an even number of toes on each foot. Some interesting animals are in this group, all related to deer species.
Deer are most closely related to other cervids, a large family of even-hoofed mammals that include moose, elk, reindeer, muntjac, brockets, and pudus.
Cervids belong to the suborder Ruminantia, which includes a much wider range of animals deer are related to, such as cattle (pigs, goats, sheep, and cows), pronghorns, giraffes, antelopes, gazelles, chevrotains, and okapis.
Some animals that are closely related to deer might surprise you, let’s look at these ‘even-toed ungulates’ in the overview below. Feel free to do your own research and fact-check this list for yourself!
1. Blue Whale
Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are the largest aquatic mammals alive today, and are surprisingly closely related to hooved land animals. This is because whales and deer share a common ancestor. About 50 million years ago, the ancestor of today’s whales called Pakicetus used to walk on land as well.
Orcas, dolphins, porpoises, and other Cetaceansalso belong to the same branch of even-toed ungulates as deer, even though they do not have visible hooves. They all share the same ancestor, which is why this group of animals is in the same biological Order of animals.
The Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is another well-known animal that is surprisingly closely related to the broad group of deer species. Giraffes are considered the largest Ruminant (hoofed herbivore) on the planet.
Not only do deer and giraffes belong to the same Order (Artiodactyla) and Suborder (Ruminantia), but they also share the same ancestor.
Both animals are two-toed hoofed animals, but are only tangentially related to each other. The giraffe would be more closely related to the Okapi, which is also partially related to the deer. Let’s take a look at that species for a moment.
The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a smaller species that is in the same family of animals as the aforementioned giraffe. However, the animal looks a lot more like a deer crossed with a zebra, as far as its appearance goes. It makes sense when you know that both the zebra and deer share the same ancestor.
Much like the giraffe, okapis belong in the same Order (Artiodactyla) and Suborder (Ruminantia) as a deer. The okapi is grouped together in the same clade as deer called Ungulates, which contains a great diversity of related large hoofed mammals. However, okapis are more related to giraffes than to deer.
The Zebra (Equus quagga) is another iconic hoofed mammal that has a lot of relatives. These animals are seen on the plains of Africa in large groups, with their stripes helping them ‘blend into the crowd’.
More surprising is the fact that zebras and deer are related. Zebras belong to the same Order (Artiodactyla), Suborder (Ruminantia), and Clade (Ungulates) as deer. However, a zebra does not belong to the same family as deer. The zebra belongs to the Equidae family, which includes horses and donkeys.
The Antelope (Bovidae) are another group of hoofed animals from the African savannah that are related to deer. While antelope and deer are not from the same family, they do share the same infraorder of even-toed hoofed animals called Pecora.
A wide range of different antelope species exist in their own subfamilies, which also include gazelles, impalas, and wildebeest. Domestic cattle are also grouped in the Bovidae family. All these families combined are basically the direct ‘neighbors’ of the Cervidae family, to which all deer species belong.
6. Chevrotain (Mouse Deer)
Chevrotain (Tragulidae) or Mouse Deer are an order of animals that almost don’t feel real. These animals are pretty much a crossover between a deer and a mouse, and they look so strange!
While their name suggests a direct relation with deer in the Cervidae family, the animals are neither rodents nor deer. Mouse deer make up their own unique infraorder called Tragulidae. The animals do share the same ancestor as deer, and they are both Ungulates (even-toed hoofed herbivores).
The American Bison (Bison bison) is a hooved animal that is part of the Bovidae family, to which the aforementioned antelope also belong. This means they are as closely related to deer as these steppe-roaming species.
Just like deer, the American Bison is part of the same Order (Artiodactyla), Suborder (Ruminantia), and Infraorder (Pecora). Bison belong to a closely related Bovidae family, while deer belong to the Cervidae family.
The Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) is actually directly related to the whale. As we discussed at the start of this overview, all whale species (and therefore also hippos) share a common ancestor with deer.
While the appearance of the hippo might differ a lot from deer, they are both Ungulates (even-toed hoofed herbivores). Hippos belong to the same Order (Artiodactyla), Suborder (Ruminantia) as deer. They do not belong to the same family, but are tangentially related.
The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) shares a lot of the same habitat as deer, as they are both forest-dwelling animals. Interestingly enough, together with deer, they are also some of the most common Ungulates (even-toed hoofed herbivores) in this habitat.
While belonging to a different family (Suidae), wild boar are part of the same Order (Artiodactyla) and Suborder (Ruminantia) as deer. A boar will be more closely related to livestock pigs, which belong to the same genus. But the wild boar and deer are still tangentially related to each other.