Thursday, 4 August 2011

Irish Elk

This week I’m bringing you another request, and apologizing for the delay in EPIC creatures. A death in the family kept me from my work for a few weeks, but it’s good to be back! This creature is actually a deer (the Irish Elk is also called Giant Deer) with the largest antlers (compared to its size) ever discovered, I guess you could say it has a nice rack! It once lived with early man, two common beliefs of why it went extinct is that we over-hunted it and that the antlers got so big that it was hard for the deer to adapt to its environment. No one really knows why it died out as records were not keep back then, all we have are fossils and cave drawings, the last known fossil of the species has been carbon dated to about 7700 years ago.

The Irish Elk is about 2.1 metres (6.9ft) tall and looks like your average deer. It ate grass, plants, fruits and tree bark, no different than deer nowadays. Most fossils are found in Irish bogs but scientists believe that they did not just live in Ireland.

What makes this creature so epic is the rack on their heads! They are the largest antlers of any known deer, living or extinct. The antlers were a maximum of 3.65 metres (12ft) from tip to tip and weighted up to 40kg (88lb), now that is a rack to display on your trophy wall! They were so big and required so much calcium to make/maintain that scientists believe that the Irish Elk developed a condition similar to osteoporosis.

It is also believed that the antlers got so large and heavy that as the Irish Elk aged it would eventually be unable lift its head. Once again the main purpose of the antlers was to impress the ladies, the buck with the largest antlers got his pick of the does. The antlers were also used in defense but not that often. The antlers got so large that it was hard for them to get around in the forested areas; when an animal develops a trait that hinders their ability to live like the Irish elk, it is call a maladaptation.

It just goes to show that bigger is not always better and even nature cannot make everything work.