• This Roosevelt elk carries a beautiful set of heavy antlers. Antlers—including the ones on this elk—are grown and lost by most species of male deer every year.

    An adult male elk, or bull, begins to grow antlers in spring. As the antlers grow, they are covered with a layer of furry skin called velvet. Velvet carries oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the tips of the antlers, allowing them to grow about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) every day. By late summer, the velvet falls off, leaving the elk with a 18-kilogram (40-pound) pair of solid-bone antlers.

    This bone stage means that the antlers have “died,” and no longer receive nutrients. Elk antlers still serve their purpose, however, as powerful weapons for combat with other bulls. Every fall, bulls spar over the right to mate with female elk (called cows).

    A full set of antlers is called a rack. A rack is often measured by “points,” the number of pointed ends on a set of antlers. Elk can have as many as 20 points on one rack. This is about a 12- or 13-point elk.

    After the antlers have served their purpose, the bull will shed them to conserve energy during the cold winter.

    • The Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four elk species in North America—adults can measure 3 meters (10 feet) from head to tail and have a shoulder height of 1.5 meters (5 feet).
    • Antlers are the fastest-growing bone in any mammal.
    • Reindeer are the only species where females regularly grow antlers. They don't use their antlers for sparring, however. Female reindeer use their antlers to clear away snow piled on top of the mosses and lichen that are their main winter food source.
    • A rack's points are sometimes called tines.
    • The antlers of tropical and equatorial species of deer can last for many years—sometimes, the animal's whole life.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    absorb Verb

    to soak up.

    antler Noun

    horn-like bony outgrowth on deer and related animals.

    blood vessel Noun

    tubes through which blood circulates.

    bone adjective, noun

    structure composing the skeleton of vertebrate animals.

    cartilage Noun

    strong, flexible connective tissue found in many animals.

    conserve Verb

    to save or use wisely.

    deer Noun

    mammal whose male members have antlers.

    elk Noun

    large species of deer native to North America. Also called American elk and wapiti.

    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    indicate Verb

    to display or show.

    mate Verb

    to reproduce or breed.

    metabolism Noun

    chemical changes in living cells by which energy is provided for vital processes.

    nutrient Noun

    substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient
    osteoclast Noun specialized bone cell that absorbs bone, allowing for the deposition of new bone and maintenance of bone strength.
    pedicle Noun

    attachment point for antlers in deer.

    rack Noun

    full set of antlers.

    skull Noun

    bones of the head, supporting the face and protecting the brain and upper spinal cord.

    spar Verb

    to engage in a fight or dispute.

    sustain Verb

    to support.

    vascularize Verb

    to develop or supply a tissue with blood vessels.

    velvet Noun

    soft, furry covering of growing antlers.

    weapon Noun

    tool to hurt or combat an opponent.

Tell us what you think