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Elk-The Largest Terrestrial Mammal

April 08, 2022 4 min read

Elk-The Largest Terrestrial Mammal

Cervus Canadensis, the elk, is the largest terrestrial mammal belonging to the family Cervidae. Elk are sometimes called wapiti, meaning “light-colored deer” or “white rump.” Elk are the subspecies of the red deer (Cervus elaphus).

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Naming History:

The meaning of elk is hart or stag, and the word elk is derived from ancient root words. However, there are differences between moose and elk, but elk is the common name for moose in European countries. The name wapiti is less common, and mostly elk is used.

Difference between Moose and Elk:

There are some common differences between two closely related two ungulates, and these are,

  • The first difference is that they inhabit different habitats. Moose is mainly present in willows around streams and ponds, while elk inhabit the sagebrush and spruce areas.
  • The scientific names of both are different. Alces alces is of moose while elk's scientific name is Cervus elaphus canadensis.
  • Both moose and elk differ in size, color, and antlers. An adult moose weighs about twice heavier as elk. The elk has light brown color and appears golden brown, while the moose is dark brown and appears black.
  • Elk have pointed antlers while moose have flat antlers.
  • Moose have heart-shaped hooves, while elk have tooth-shaped hooves.
  • Moose have large, bulbous noses, while elk have narrow noses without a bulb.

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  • Another difference is in the tracks that they leave. The elk tracks are three inches wide and four inches long, while moose have longer and deeper tracks.
  • Apart from physical characteristics, moose and elk exhibit different social behaviors when approached. Moose are easy to approach and kill as they will not flee while facing the hunters, while elk usually flee at once on seeing hunters.
  • Elk remain in gangs, while moose are solitary mammals, and it is very often that they are present in small groups.

General Characteristics of Elk:

Body Weight:

Male adults are heavier than females; an adult male weighs about 170–450kg, while females weigh 170–190kg.

Body Size:

While talking about their height, their size is 6 feet relative to humans. Elk height at the shoulder is 4 to 5 feet

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Body Color:

Elk have thick bodies, short tails, and slender legs. The elk bodies' coloration depends upon habitat and season. They have light grey coats in winters and more reddish-brown coats in summers. Calves are spotted and lose spots in summers.

Elk are known to shed their coat in summer, which they grow in winter for insulation. They rub themselves against trees and rocks to shed the coat.


Both male and female elks grow antlers which are bony structures. The vascularized velvet protects antlers during the growing season. Male antlers can grow up to 4 feet. Elk shed their antlers in late winter and early spring due to low testosterone levels.

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It is one of the fantastic elk facts that their antlers grow faster, approximately at the rate of 2.5 centimeters per day.


The elk teeth are unique because they have ivory canine teeth, teeth that are rowed in the upper jaw. As elks are herbivores, their teeth resemble deer and other herbivores and are made of enamel.

Legs and Hooves:

They can run at 40 m/h as they have slender legs and tooth-shaped hooves. Elk can outrun horses in short races.

Life Span:

Elk can live an average of 8 to 12 years in the wild.

Elk Habitat and Distribution:

Elk inhabit the areas of oak brush, aspen, mountainous landscapes, lodge-pole pine, and spruce. In the United States, they are present on the Western side of North America.

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Elk is native to North America and East and Central Asia. Some elk populations are well adapted to the introduced areas of Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. Elk were introduced to America from Alaska, and they are also present in New England, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, and Scandinavia.

Elk Diet:

Elk are herbivores, and they mainly eat plants diet may vary according to season, they have four-chambered stomachs and are ruminates, and their diet may include,

  • Grasses
  • Forbes
  • Shrubs
  • Tree bark
  • Twigs
  • Aspen sprouts 
  • Mountain bluebells
  • Poke-weed fleece flower
  • Stream-bank globe mallow

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Elk's daily diet is 9.1 kilograms of vegetation on average.

Elk Life Cycle and Reproduction:

Late August is the mating season. Males and females form herds, and males produce bugling sounds. Elk exhibit antlers wrestling and high vocalization against their rivals. One can hear the bugling sounds from a distance as the sounds are with a frequency of 4000 Hz.

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The gestation period is about 240 to 262 days. At the end of autumn, females produce one calf in high mountain grazing areas; the calf only weighs 16 kg when born and can stand even when it is only 20 minutes old

Importance of Elk Hunt:

Elk are hunted for,

  • Meat
  • Antlers
  • Antlers velvet
  • Elk hides
  • Teeth

Elk meat is rich in protein and cholesterol. Antlers are used for artwork, while antlers velvet is used as medicine, hides are commonly used for clothing, tepee covering, and footwear. Teeth are used for making jewellery and clothes embellishments.

You can also know more about elk hunting from our article on Elk Hunting.

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