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Creature of the Week #13: Megaloceros

  • 08-03-2010 2:37am
    Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 10,079 Mod ✭✭✭✭

    Spanning a period from late Pliocene to the Late Pleistocene, Megaloceros or "Giant Antler " was a genus of deer that were at one time found throughout Eurasia. Most members of the genus were extremely large herbivorous animals who favored habitats of meadows and open woodlands.


    On average the adults of most species measured a little under two meters at the the shoulder, although certain species specific to Mediterranean islands like Sardinia and Corsica are good examples of insular dwarfism, common where species is restriced to a small island. The smallest of these M. cazioti, barely reached a meter in height. See here for a size comparison of the most common species of Megalocerous

    The largest and most famous species of them all was Megaloceros giganteus, which is believed to have evolved from M. antecedens. Better known as the "Irish Elk" this giant lived from approximately 400,000 to 9,500 years ago. Standing a impressive 2.1 meters to the shoulder, it had the largest antlers of any known Cervid, measuring up to 3.65 m from tip to tip and weighing up to 40 kilograms. Interestingly M. giganteus had almost the exact same body size as the largest living Moose, the Alaskan Mouse Alces alces gigas, whos antlers are only half the size of M. giganteus.

    The common name of M. giganteus "Irish Elk" is a bit of a misnomer as was neither exclusively Irish, as it spanned wide range from Ireland to east of Lake Baika in Russia, nor was it a true species of Elk, being much more closely related to modern deer such as the fallow deer.

    It was at one time suggested that the extinction of the Irish Elk extinction was due to it large antlers becoming so unwieldly that the Irish Elk could not carry on the normal business of life. However in a 1974 essay by Stephen J Gould this theory was tested rigorously and demonstrated the Irish Elk in fact had antlers of just the size one would predict for their body.

    While no definative conclusion has been reached as to the final cause of their extinction, hunting pressue from humans or loss of quality and quantity of their prferred habitats as the most frequently postulated explainations.

    Brief clip from Episode six of Walking with beasts "Mammoth Journey" with Two adult male Megaloceros giganteus butting heads.