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How Physically Imposing Was the Irish Elk?

The Irish Elk stood as a majestic giant of the Pleistocene, with antlers spanning up to 12 feet, commanding awe and respect. This magnificent creature's size was both a marvel and a mystery. Imagine walking alongside such a beast! How did its grandeur influence its survival? Join us as we unravel the secrets of this prehistoric titan. What do you think enabled it to carry such impressive antlers?

If a trophy hunter ever invented a time machine, he or she could go back to the Pleistocene epoch and end up filling an entire wall with just one prize: the antlers from an Irish elk. Biological evidence suggests that the giant deer species, which first appeared approximately 400,000 years ago and went extinct around 8,000 years ago, stood about 7 feet (2.1 m) tall.

That stature would be impressive on its own, but it's the size of the creature's antlers that was really jaw-dropping: those antlers could measure 12 feet (3.7 m) across.

The Irish elk, which went extinct 8,000 years ago, boasted the largest antlers ever, measuring 12 ft (3.7 m) across.
The Irish elk, which went extinct 8,000 years ago, boasted the largest antlers ever, measuring 12 ft (3.7 m) across.

As massive and frightening as those big branches might have been, noted evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould speculated that they were neither out of proportion, nor intended to be used as weapons. In the 1970s, Gould examined several deer species and determined that the Irish elk's antlers were the right size for its body, especially if it lived in open country. Gould also believed that the antlers would have been too cumbersome for fighting, but they could serve to intimidate male rivals and impress females.

What else about (Irish) elk:

  • The Irish elk was not closely related to either of the modern-day elk species; its closest living relatives are thought to be fallow deer or red deer.

  • Confusingly, the moose (Alces alces) is known as an elk in British English. In North American English, "elk" refers to Cervus canadensis, also known as the wapiti.

  • Despite its name, the Irish elk did not live exclusively in Ireland. Its range reached all the way to Lake Baikal in Siberia.

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    • The Irish elk, which went extinct 8,000 years ago, boasted the largest antlers ever, measuring 12 ft (3.7 m) across.
      The Irish elk, which went extinct 8,000 years ago, boasted the largest antlers ever, measuring 12 ft (3.7 m) across.