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The Rocky Mountain elk gained prominence as the state animal of Utah in 1971. Also called wapiti, a Shawnee Indian word meaning white rump, elk were reintroduced into Utah by conservation groups after their numbers were depleted due to overhunting in the 1800s. Wildlife officials regulate hunting of the state animal of Utah to preserve healthy populations of elk.
Cervus canadensis is the scientific name for the state animal of Utah, which is the second largest member of the deer family. Once plentiful throughout the United States, the Rocky Mountain elk has become limited to west of the Rocky Mountains and parts of Canada. The state animal of Utah lives high in mountain ranges, migrating to lower elevations in the fall to forage.
At maturity, bull elk might weigh more than 700 pounds (317 kilos) and stand 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) at the shoulder. Cows weigh considerably less and do not grow antlers. Bulls shed their antlers during the winter, and new antlers emerge each spring. When the new antlers first appear, they're covered with a velvety substance. Male elk rub against trees to remove the covering once growth is complete.
Rocky Mountain elk prefer a diet of native grasses, but resort to woody shrubs and twigs during winter. They rely upon stores of fat to provide energy when nutritious plants are covered with snow. When heavy snow falls in the upper elevations, the state animal of Utah migrates to lower areas, where the sun melts snow and provides access to food.
One characteristic of these animals includes the many different sounds they use. Cows and calves communicate through a squealing sound, while bulls bark to indicate danger. Males also produce a loud bugling sound during mating season to warn off competing bulls and to announce their presence to cows. Sounds described as chirping and mewing represent communication among the herd.
The mating season is called the rut, marked by males locking antlers to measure the strength of other bulls. Cows produce one calf per year in May or June. They isolate calves for three weeks after birth to protect them from predators. After cows deliver offspring, they eat the afterbirth and any dirt soiled with blood to remove the scent of their young.
In addition to a state animal of Utah, legislators also designed a state cooking pot, state firearm, and state folk dance. Utah’s state flower is the sego lily, and its tree is the blue spruce. The seagull represents the state bird, while Utah’s emblem is the beehive.