and other deer family members belong to a group of animals
called "UNGULATES" , the Latin word meaning
"hoof." There are two groups of ungulates, Artiodactyla
and Perissodactyla. The number of toes is the most obvious
difference between the two. Artiodactyls (elk, deer, bison,
pronghorn and peccary) all have an even number of toes. Perissodactyls
(horses, elephants, etc.) have odd number of toes.
at birth, an elk calf weighs approximately 35 pounds (16 kg)
and will gain on average, two pounds (one kg) each day for
the first weeks of it's life.
By the beginning of its first winter, a new born elk may weigh
as much as five times it's birth weight. Cow elk can average
more than 500 pounds (225 kg) in weight. They can stand 4.5
feet (1.3 m) tall at the shoulder, and measure 6.5 feet (2
m) from nose tip to tail. Bull Elk will average 700+ pounds
(315 kg) in weight with some large bulls exceeding 900 pounds
(407 kg). They can stand 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder,
and measures more than 8 feet (2.4 m) from nose tip to tail.
male (bull) Elk grow antlers. Each spring, male Elk shed their
antlers leaving a bloody stump (pedicles) on their heads which
soon heals. Not long after, as Spring nears its end, Elk begin
growing antlers from the bony stumps on the tops of their
skulls. Researchers believe that it is the increasing amount
of daylight which elevates the level of the hormone testosterone
in the animal's blood, which thus triggers the growth of new
antlers. Antler growth begins as layer upon layer of cartilage
develops which then slowly mineralizes into bone material.
The antlers can be easily damaged until they are completely
mineralized in late summer. The soft covering called "velvet"
protects the antlers as blood is carried beneath the velvet
to the growing bone tissue. Antlers grow faster than any other
bone. They can grow as much as 1 inch (2.5 cm) per day during
their summer growth cycle. When examining Elk antlers, you'll
will notice grooves and ridges on it where the veins had carried
blood throughout the antlers growing time. August is the time
when the blood supply to the antlers dries up. The antlers
finish their hardening and the velvet begins to itch and is
rubbed off by the Elk. The composition of the Elk antlers
is calcium, phosphorous and can contain as much as 50 percent
year old bull elk usually grow unbranched antlers called spikes
that can be 10-20 inches (25-50 cm) tall. In their third year,
the antlers will begin developing tines that will branch outwards
from the main beam. On average, the elk will grow one set
of new points each year thereafter. The front tines help protect
their eyes during their antler battles. With age, a bull's
antlers may have six or more tines on each antler and weigh
as much as 40 pounds (18 kg). They can grow to a length and
spread of more than four feet (1.2 m). A large rack identifies
a mature and wise bull that is successful in finding good
food as well as mating stature.
will graze for 8 or 9 hours a day gathering energy as well
as providing for the normal development of antlers on males.
Elk are herbivores which means that they eat only plants.
Their diet may include grasses, low-growing, short-stemmed
plants, trees and shrubs (including limbs, bark and new shoots).
Elk eat and watch for predators at the same time. Elk gather
in herds so that the group can watch and graze at the same
time while having many eyes and ears open to threats and dangers.
In the herd at least one animal is looking up while others
are eating, most of the time there are several watching out.
Even the feeding animals are constantly turning their ears
to listen for sounds, warning, threatening or unusual.
bulls must consume very large amounts of nutrients for the
needed energy and minerals to grow large antlers as well as
the strength to carry them. Large antlers aide the bulls to
defend himself against predators as well as sparring with
other bulls for mating rights. Large antlers are of great
interest to the female elk (cows). Cow Elk seek to mate with
the strongest, most successful males, therefore, usually the
bulls with the largest antlers.
Elk consume some very tough plants such as grass, bark and
twigs which most other mammals cannot digest. Elk have multi-chambered
stomachs, a trait of the suborder "Ruminantia".
Domestic Cattle, Sheep, their wild cousins, and other species,
are also ruminants.) The basis of the name comes from "rumen",
the name of the first of three or four chambers of a ruminant
stomach. These chambers form a system for digesting tough
plant fibers and extracting the maximum nutritional value
To envision how this "multi-stomach" works, imagine
a cow elk that is eating as she consumes grass, twigs, and
leaves. A meal period can send as much as 15 pounds (7 kg)
of tough plant fiber into the elk's stomach daily. The unchewed
material enters the rumen (the first chamber). Inside the
rumen, bacteria and protozoa begin breaking down the eaten
plant material. The elk then regurgitates her food, called
the "cud" and ruminates (chews cud thoroughly).
When the regurgitated cud is completely re-chewed, the elk
again swallows it. This time, the smaller food particles pass
through the rumen and into the "reticulum",
or second chamber, for further digestion. The food then passes
into the "omasum", or the third chamber,
where the water is squeezed out and absorbed into the elk's
body. Finally, the food passes into the "abomasum",
or the fourth and "true" stomach, where it is then
broken down to the molecular level so that it can be absorbed
by the intestine for the elk's nourishment.
the Elk of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado