A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Why are the antlers on the deer in the deer crossing sign backward?

Dear Straight Dope:

Is there a specific reason that every deer crossing sign posted by this nation's roadways depicts a deer with his antlers distinctly on backwards? I'm sure you can shed some light on the subject.

You know ... you go through life, kinda living in your own little world ... when someone points something out to you that you realize you never really thought about. Your mention of the deer crossing sign did that for me.

At first, I was skeptical, so I checked out the Manual of Traffic Signs ( http://members.aol.com/rmoeuradot/200x200/warn/W11-3.gif) and looked at the sign. And my gawd! The antlers appeared backwards! The next step was to see where the drawing originated. I wrote to several traffic sign companies to see if they would 'fess up ... and they must have believed either that I was personally complaining about their signs or that I was off my rocker, because I received no response.

Then I started to think. The deer on the sign is depicted in silhouette--a two-dimensional drawing. It wouldn't show anything like curving antlers. So if the deer had antlers that maybe curved around the head ... wouldn't they show up as backwards on a sign? On this hunch, I checked an encyclopedia that had pictures of deer ... and bingo! The deer you see on the traffic sign is one of the most common deer in North America--the white-tailed deer. This picture from the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia isn't the one I was looking at, but it does show that the antlers thrust forward. There's a better illustration in the online Encyclopedia Britannica (www.eb.com), but that's a subscription service so I can't give you a direct link. Trust me, though--it's a photo of a white-tailed that closely resembles the deer on the sign, antlers and all.

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