The Facts

  • Genus/Species: Cervus canadensis
  • Conservation Status: No special status. Not at risk.
  • Location: North America and Eastern Asia.


The Scoop

The Light Colored Deer

The elk is also known as the wapiti, a Native American word that means "light-colored deer." Elk prefer open woodlands and avoid dense unbroken forests. They can be found in coniferous swamps, aspen-hardwood forests, and coniferous-hardwood forests. Elk range in color from dark brown in winter to tan in summer and have a characteristic buff colored rump. A dark shaggy mane hangs from the neck to the chest. Only the male elk carry antlers. These antlers can spread more than 5 feet. The cows, or female elk, are smaller than the male and do not have antlers.

Mature elk stand up to 60 inches at the shoulder- about as tall as a thirteen year old boy - and weigh as much as 7 such kids put together, which would be over 700 pounds. During summer, this social animal will live in herds with as many as 400 individuals. Elk migrate with the seasons in search of food. They usually eat grasses, but will also eat twigs and needles of fir, juniper as well as trees and shrubs during a harsh winter. Elk browse in the early morning and late evening. They are ruminant animals and bring up their food and chew it again to aid in digestion. This is also known as chewing cud.

Elk were once found across much of North America but were driven to take refuge in more remote locations. Today they live primarily in western North America, especially in mountainous landscapes. Elk protect themselves from predators through their herding behavior and large size. They may also use their antlers and sharp hooves to protect themselves.


Did You Know? 

  • While a male's antlers are growing, they are covered with a thin, fuzzy skin called velvet. Blood flows through the antlers, helping them grow as much as 1 inch a day. 
  • The flow of blood in an elk’s antlers also acts as "air-conditioning," cooling the large male through the heat of the summer.
  • Male elks dig up the ground with their antlers and hooves and bugle -a loud, brassy sound- to advertise their health and size to females and to warn other males to stay away.
  • Male elk shed their antlers once a year. Antlers grow during the summer and are shed in the late winter.


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