Why do elks have antlers?

The elks are the largest members of the deer family. Elks are usually found in prairie regions, and can usually adapt to different ecosystems. Their most characteristic features by far are the antlers protruding from their head up. People often wonder about the purpose of those large antlers, since, on first glance they look more of a burden than a benefit. However, like most evolutionary modifications that animal make, the antlers are a means of survival and protection for the elk.

The primary function of antlers is protection. It is common behavior for an elk to use its antlers when provoked, often paired with a good strong front-kick. Antlers are shed each year and regrown. Hence, it is common behavior for elks to form a herd in the latter half of the season, when they are without antlers. This gives them a better chance of fending off predators.

Another important function of the antlers is mating. Yes, female elks tend to go for a male partner with the best pair of antlers! During mating period, most male elks tend to perform in what is called the ‘rut’, a competition of sorts for the attention of female elks. Antler wrestling is a common way to decide this duel, and may often result in serious injuries for the loser. The victor of the battle, will then bellow and call for female elks to join his herd. This is the process of natural selection at its best, as the females go only for the strongest elk of the lot.

This then is the purpose of antlers. Apart from having aesthetic value, antlers are highly valued both by hunters and the elks themselves. For the hunters, it is a ready source of money. For the elks, however, antlers are the means to attract and protect.

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