As its name suggests, the Chinese water deer is an adept swimmer, and may swim between islets in search of food and shelter (2) (4). Most active in the morning and evening, the Chinese water deer usually hides in dense vegetation during the day. If disturbed, it will run with a distinctive series of rabbit-like leaps (2) (4) (6), and may emit a harsh warning bark or a shrill shriek (4).
The diet of the Chinese water deer includes grasses, reeds, sedges and other wetland plants (2) (4) (5) (6) (8), and its grassland habitat is often subject to fires, which stimulate the growth of new grass shoots (6). The male’s elongated canine teeth are able to move in their sockets, helping the animal to feed more easily, and also reducing the risk of the teeth breaking during fights (3).
The Chinese water deer is mainly solitary, although stable pairs and even small groups sometimes occur (1) (4) (5) (6) (8). The male is highly territorial, marking the territory with dung piles and attacking any intruding males (4) (6). The mating season, or rut, occurs between November and January, with most young being born from May to July, after a gestation period estimated at 170 to 210 days (2) (3) (4) (6). Unusually for a deer, the female may give birth to as many as six or even eight young, although one to three is more common (1) (2) (4).
Weighing around one kilogram at birth (2), the young Chinese water deer is able to stand after just an hour, and spends most of the first few weeks hiding in vegetation (5). However, mortality is high, with up to 40 percent of young lost during the first four weeks (1). Those that survive are weaned at about two months old (5). The male Chinese water deer usually reaches sexual maturity at five to six months old, and females at seven to eight months (2) (4). This species may live for up to 13 years in captivity (2).