Deer Pictured Gnawing on Bone in Wild

A wild deer has been pictured gnawing on a bone in a nature reserve in India, the first time this has ever been observed in the country. Forest rangers spotted the unusual behavior during a regular patrol of the Pench Tiger Reserve in Nagpur in Maharashtra state.

The female deer had her calf nearby and was spotted trying to chew and break the bone. A study published in the Journal of Animal Health and Behavioural Science, assessing the behavior, said when the deer had been unable to break the bone, it continued to nibble on it.

Deers are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. However, this is not the first time this surprising behavior has been observed.

Atul Deokar, author of the study and conservator of forests at the Maharashtra Forest Department, told Newsweek that while it may be surprising to see a deer chewing on a bone, it is not rare among herbivores.

"But it has never been reported from a wild habitat," he said. "Cattles and other deers were reported with this behavior but from the enclosed/captive habitat."

Deer eating bone
A photo shows the deer from the study chewing on a bone. This is the first time this has been observed in India. Atul R. Deokar

It is also the first time this behavior has ever been documented in India, the study said.

Researchers suspect that deer may chew on bones to obtain essential minerals that are lacking in a vegetarian diet. The nutrients found in the bones may help during times of antler growth, the study said. Female deers with calves may also do it to help their calcium levels during their lactation period.

The nutrients may also be critical for a female's reproductive success, according to the study. The peak fawning season for spotted deers is usually between December and March, meaning this female deer could have been preparing to mate.

The study highlighted that it has not just been deers displaying this behavior. Other herbivores may do it for similar reasons. In 1987, a giraffe was spotted gnawing on a "wild beast" bone, the authors said.

A more disturbing incident was documented in 2017, when a white-tailed deer was spotted chewing on human remains in Texas. A study published on the observation said the deer had wandered into a body farm, which is an area where scientists research the decomposition of human remains.

A surreal picture was captured by researchers, showing the deer looking at the camera with a human rib dangling from its mouth. This was the first time this has ever been documented.

According to a report on the finding published in The Journal of Forensic Scientists, researchers had left the body in the forest uncaged, to document which animals stopped by to scavenge. They had not been expecting a deer, however.

After recovering the human bone, scientists found distinctive marks left by the deer, Smithsonian Magazine reported at the time. They could see how the teeth patterns contrasted with that of a carnivore, as the deer's jaw left a more zigzagging motion, while a predator's sharp teeth would have left a forked pattern.