Elk Facts

Elk Facts

Among the largest species of deer, on an average the elk can stand about 4 to 5 ft tall at the shoulder. Boy I will look like a leprechaun in front of this giant...
The mountainous portions of the western regions of North America is where the wild population of elk, also known as Cervus elaphus scientifically, is concentrated. These animals are also known to belong from the regions of Eastern Asia. Habitat mainly consists of forest and forest-edge regions which provide these mammals with plenty of grass, plants, leaves, and bark. Alpine meadows and even dry desert valleys, are also known to make up for the habitat for these animals, also known as wapiti, whose meaning according to Native American culture is 'light-colored deer'. Other members of the deer family such as the larger moose and the sambar are the only ones which rival the elk in size. Interestingly, the moose is also attributed as an 'elk' in Europe.

Elk Information

Diet
Elk are cud-chewing hoofed mammals, therefore, have four-chambered stomachs. Per day, elk require to feed on about 15-20 pounds of vegetation. And morning and evening are known to be the time when most of these animals can be seen foraging for food. One interesting fact about elk is, their diet depend on or vary according to the seasons of the year. During the low mercury days (winter), tree barks are on the menu. And when it is hot during the summer months, forbs such as clover, sunflower, milkweed, and tree sprouts (especially Aspen sprouts) make up for the diet. But what is available year around for them is the supply of the native grass. As cited, with the change in the season, the food source changes. So how do these animals cope with such changes in their diet? The credit goes to the microbacteria in the digestive system of the animals. These microorganisms change to adapt themselves to the varied food source.

Behavior
When the mating season kicks off, it is common to hear the bull elk echoes bugling through the mountains. The average size of the (bull) male's antlers reach up to 4 feet above the head. And these antlers are the ones the male elk make use of in combating against potential rivals in order to attract the attention of females (cows), and to defend other females in the group. Typically, males with bigger antlers, which happen to the matured ones, gain an upper hand in the fight, thus getting to control smaller herds. One interesting technique the bulls put to use for wooing the cows is bathing in their own urine. And they have a special way of doing it too. They dig holes in the ground, fill them with their urine, and roll over. This is what is called the 'fatal attraction!'

Migration
Migration is a common phase in the lives of most species of deer, which include the elk too. In early summer, these animals make their way for higher grounds in the mountainous regions. And they spend the late summer in the same region, and it is there that the breeding season takes place. And when the mercury starts dropping, these animals get back together in large single sex-groups (known as gang). They retreat to lower valley pastures, wherein wooded areas and sheltered valleys provide them not only with the required food supply, but also cover from the wind. However, some species of elk do not show any migratory behavior in their lifetime; a common example being the Roosevelt Elk.

Reproduction
The early summer, when the elk move to higher grounds, the cows give birth to their offspring. A single calf delivery is common with every cow, and amazingly within 20 minutes, the new-born becomes ready to stand on its legs. 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb) is an average weight of an offspring. When a cow nears her delivery, she finds herself a place isolated from the main herd, and chooses to stay there until the new-born becomes able enough to escape predators. In the wild, the average lifespan of elk is 10-13 years, mainly due to predation. While in captivity, it is 20 years or more.

Some Quick Facts
  • March is the month when elk have to part away from their antlers. However, by May, the same grow back as they near the time of breeding season.
  • Folklore tells that the intensity of the sound of a bull can alone give a notion about the size and age of the animal. This notion, however, is no more than a myth.
  • In summer, elk wear a light tan coat, while in the winter, they taken on a dense, darker brown coat.
  • The larger the spread of the antlers, the more hunk a male stands for attracting cows.
  • 1 inch/day is the growth of the antlers in these animals. The growth is achieved by the blood flowing in them. The blood flow also helps these mammals to cool down during the hotter months.
To conclude, animals such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, American black bears, and mountain lions are known to be the natural predators of elk. Aloha!