The world has seen many species arise and vanish. Some species were small and lithe, while others were colossal masterpieces. One legend tells of a massive beast with antlers so large that they blocked the sun, the legend of the mighty Irish Elk.
The Irish Elk is categorized in the deer family, Cervidae, but it was an extremely large deer with shoulder blades standing at 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) or higher.
The expansive antlers of the Irish Elk could reach a length of nearly 4 meters (13 feet) and a weight of 90 lbs. A mature Irish Elk could weight 1,500 lbs. The name, Megaloceros giganteus (pronounced meg-ah-LOSS-er-oss)is a Latin term that aptly describes the Irish Elk, meaning “giant antler.” It was once believed that the Irish Elk’s demise could be blamed on the size of the antlers, leaving the animal unable to lift its head properly.
The Irish Elk was a herbivorous creature whose diet consisted of grazing in the fields and around the perimeter of wooded areas. The reign of the Irish Elk existed during the Pleistocene era, with fossils of the last Irish Elk dating back to roughly 11,000 years ago. The dispersion of the Irish Elk was thought to have been from the Western regions of Ireland down into the Northern parts of Africa.
What purposes did these distinctive, weighty antlers of the Irish Elk serve? A few theories suggest that the antlers were used as weapons during the impressive combats meant to attract female Irish Elk. Researchers have noted that the position of the antlers on the Irish Elk was not particularly well suited for combat, but perhaps this produced a more intimidating head-on display to rival Irish Elk. From an evolutionary stand-point, bigger antlers meant more females for the male Irish Elk. Therefore, the genetics for disproportionately large antlers were passed on, perhaps until natural selection produced Irish Elk with detrimentally heavy antlers.
Although scientists have pointed towards hunting and climate change as the demise of the Irish Elk, no one knows for sure. It is possible that climate change brought on a shift in vegetation leaving the Irish Elk with deficiencies in phosphates and calcium – essential for bone and antler growth. Perhaps the Irish Elk suffered from a condition similar to osteoporosis due to malnourishment.
Wikipedia, “Irish Elk,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Elk