Would you believe that it only takes one year for bull elk to grow their massive antlers? Their antlers shed each winter and begin to grow again in the spring. Only males have antlers. Elk, or wapiti, are one of the largest species in the Cervus deer family.
When we were on a tour of the Alberta Rockies, our guide allowed us to hold a set of antlers that had been found on the forest floor. As the antlers were passed around in our group, I was expecting a rather lightweight feel to them, like I might get from holding a set of bicycle handles. However, when my turn came, the weight felt like a ton of cement. It was so surprising!
Antlers are made from dense growing bone. They can grow almost one inch per day! The maximum width is approximately four feet, weighing up to 40 pounds. While they’re growing, they’re covered in a protective, soft fuzzy skin that’s called velvet. The velvet sheds in the summer once the antlers have fully developed.
This photo of an elk grazing on leaves was taken during the first week of June, and you can clearly see the velvet still on the antlers.
Our guide also informed us that fallen antlers that we may come across must be left alone (his belonged to the parks department). Other smaller animals, such as ground squirrels, feed on the found antlers for calcium and other nutrients, therefore they’re an important part of the ecosystem.
Have you ever seen an elk in the wild? Leave a comment below.
If you’re interested in hearing more about elk, visit Cow Elk and Calf: Story Behind the Photo.