Elk are incredible animals, and anyone who has ever been lucky enough to see one in the wild knows how majestic they are. There are so many benefits of eating elk meat (and it’s delicious to boot) but these creatures really took my heart when I started to learn more about how unique and remarkable they truly are. Here are five awesome facts about elk that make them one of my all-time favorite animals.
1. They Used To Have Sharp Fangs
The ancient ancestors of elk had ivory tusks that protruded from their mouths. In modern times, elk still retain the behavior of baring their teeth – and what once would have been their sharp tusks – when threatened. Elk have retained ivory-like canine teeth that are the evolutionary remains of these tusks. These teeth are considered treasures by many hunters who consider them both a trophy and a way to honor the life of the majestic animal. If you’re wondering what exactly ancient elk did with their fangs, you’re not alone. They used them fiercely both in self defense against predators and to establish dominance during mating season. At this point in time, elk also had much smaller antlers – as time progressed, the antlers grew into the incredible racks that we see today, and the tusks diminished to teeth that stay inside the mouth.
2. Males That Get The Most Sunshine Have The Biggest Antlers
If you’ve ever wondered why some bulls have larger antlers than others, here’s your answer. Sunlight directly increases their testosterone production, and the males with the most testosterone have the biggest racks. Some have antlers so huge they can reach four feet above their heads. They shed their antlers each year around March, and they start to grow back by mid-spring. By mating season in late summer, their antlers will have reached full size again.
During this period of growth, the antlers can grow up to an inch per day due to increased blood flow to the area. This incredible rapid growth has sparked the interest of scientists for possible medicinal use. The fresh antlers are covered in velvet which gets removed each year during fighting. Usually the males with the biggest antlers establish dominance in the social hierarchy. The most desirable males to mate with have the most widespread antlers – all thanks to the sun.
3. They Have Some Unique Methods Of Communication
Elk make hissing noises to communicate with each other, and males make loud sounds called bugles during mating season. These sonorous mating calls can be heard from miles away, an otherworldly sound that can reach incredibly high pitches. Male elk are able to produce this sound by roaring and whistling at the same time. Elk have special bones in their ankles that make popping and cracking sounds as they walk. It seems that they also use these noises as a form of communication. As they forage through the woods, these sounds allow them to warn other elk as they approach from behind, easing fears of approaching predators.
4. They Experienced A Population Decline Similar To The American Bison
Elk have a history that in some ways mirrors that of the bison. They were used and honored by Native Americans and First Nations peoples as a source of food, shelter, clothing and in some cultures playing a role in spirituality. There were a couple species of elk that were over-hunted to extinction, including the magnificent eastern elk which once roamed almost the entire nation. The males of the species could weigh over 1000 pounds. Unfortunately, the last of their kind was hunted by European settlers in 1877. The species known as Merriam’s elk, once native to Arizona, was also hunted to extinction at this time. Nowadays, our modern species of elk are in no danger of extinction thanks to regulated hunting.
5. The Name “Elk” Is Something Of An American Misnomer
The word “elk” actually came from European settlers, who used this name that in their homeland refers to what Americans know as “moose”. So the name of this beautiful species of deer can be a bit confusing depending on your region. Elk are also known by the more accurate name wapiti, which is an Americanized version of the Native word waapiti. This term came from the word wap which translates to white, in reference to white rump and tail area of the elk. The word waapiti was widely used by the Shawnee and Cree nations. Depending on where you live, you may be familiar with this term already as it is more widely used in Canada and bordering locations.