My guide in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone was the wonderfully well-informed wildlife biologist Mark Byall of EcoTour Adventures. He was a constant source of fascinating information, and never ever boring. Thanks Mark. And Gloria and Rich (you know who you are).
The North American range of the elk is much more limited than it once was, (and Maine has never been their home), so this was my first chance to see elk.
They’re huge! A bull elk, Cervus elaphus nelsoni, can weigh over 1100 lbs and stand up to 5 ft at the shoulder (I am 5ft 3″). The most striking thing about them is of course their antlers. This one has five points on each antler:
and this one, confronting a potential rival, has six:
They don’t reach their maximum size for 9 1/2 years or so, and the record-holder had 14 points on each side. But most mature bulls are six-pointers, like my second photo above, and the one in this video, far off on a ridge and taken by Mark Byall through his spotting scope with his iPhone:
We will meet this bull again next time.
Young bulls are called spikes, for obvious reasons:
Look closely at his spikes:
They push out of the pedicles, and initially they are covered in a velvety membrane. He still has some attached to the tips of his miniature antlers. The velvet has a blood supply, and helps the antlers grow. Indeed, at this stage they will bleed if they are damaged.
This wonderful time-lapse video shows how antlers grow (it is a white-tailed deer, but the process is the same for elk, moose, or any antlered species):
They rub the velvet off on a nearby tree, leaving a scrape behind:
After the mating season is over, they drop their antlers. This video shows an elk just after he has lost his antlers. I suppose it feels like losing a tooth (Is there an antler fairy, I wonder?). He still behaves like the alpha male, and at the end of the video you can see it feels itchy and strange to him.
This arch in the town square in Jackson, Wyoming is made entirely of natural elk drops:
In Part 2 I will introduce you to the rest of the family, and an unexpected visitor.
* My title is grammatically justifiable since ‘elk’ can be plural as well as singular! ‘Quelques’ is the plural of the French for ‘some’ and can be pronounced [kelk] or [kelk-uhz]. And you try finding another rhyme for ‘elk’. The only other one is ‘whelk’.