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What is a perruque head on a deer?

What does the term mean?

Perruque head on doe

Doe with perruque head

Roe deer are more likely to develop a perruque head than other species possibly because, unlike most deer, they grow their antlers in winter and have more prominent pearlation than other species. (Read when do deer shed their antlers?)

Perruque head on deer

  • Perruque comes from the French term for wig
  • A deer with a perruque head does in fact look slightly as if wearing a wig
  • Perruque heads are rare and can be highly sought-after by some trophy hunters, particularly on the continent
  • In nearly all cases a perruque head is responsible for the buck’s long-drawn out death, rendering it blind and with accompanying infections.  Culling the deer gives it a fast and merciful death instead
  • Deer managers will cull a deer of this type at the earliest
  • It is said that some Victorian estate managers would shoot bucks in the testicles in the hope that a perruque head would result, to attract a wealthy client in search of an unusual trophy head.

Q: Is it possible for a female roe deer to develop a perruque head and grow a mass on top of its skull? In the last month, I have seen an animal with an obvious velvet mass on its head on two occasion, but both times I have not been able to identify it firmly as a female so have left it.

A: Roe does do, from time to time, develop growths on the top of their heads, in the area where you might normally expect to find antlers. Old does sometimes develop velvet-covered knobbles and spikes, while a few have been observed to grow antlers, which eventually clean of velvet and colour up. The explanations for these phenomena are varied, depending on the physiology of the individual.

There have been a few examples of animals which developed a significant perruque-type growth. One such animal was shot in Caithness several years ago. The few I have seen have not had a discernible antler underneath the velvet, rather it has been an irregular tissue mass, as can be found in male perruques. Explanations have ranged from hormonal imbalances, development of tumours or, in the case of those with fully developed antlers, to the animal being intersex.

Any roe with a velvet mass on the top of its head, regardless of its sex, must be seen as abnormal and the medium to long-term outcome for it is not likely to be good. Its culling can be justified. If this happens, it is of more use to try to get an explanation for its condition and, if possible, an X-ray to see what lies below the surface, rather than just dispose of it.


Q: I was recently shown the perruque head of a roebuck. A stalking companion said that these heads develop as a result 
of the animals being deliberately shot in the testicles. Is this true?

A: Roebuck with perruque heads are often found to have damage to their testicles, either having been shot or through disease. Sometimes these animals are intersex, though the condition might not be visible to the casual observer. In other cases, it is caused by other conditions — for example, tumours on the head.

Where roe have been surgically castrated, the perruque growth can be extreme, on occasion adding five times the weight of the head. It is now recognised that the perruque growth will, in some cases, continue to grow, year on year until the weight, infection or fly strike causes the animal to succumb. To avoid a slow death such deer are culled at the earliest opportunity.


This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.