Numerous domesticated animals have horns, including cows, sheep, and goats. On the other hand, elk, moose, deer, and caribou are among the species of the Cervidae (deer-like) family that exclusively have antlers on their males (female caribou are an exception to this male-only rule). Antlers develop from the tips, fall off, and then re-grow each year. They are composed completely of bone, as opposed to horns, which have a bone core encased in keratin, the same substance used to make nails.
It’s critical to grasp the function of antlers in order to comprehend the buck issue. The antlers that moose males develop on their heads have two functions. The first is to attract female moose, which have bigger antlers and hence make better mates.
However, the antlers have a crucial secondary purpose, which is to defend the animal from predators. Wolves, one of the most cunning hunters in the animal world, are among these predators in Yellowstone National Park.
Antler’s growth is incredibly fast. In fact, antlers are the fastest-growing bones in the world. Just a few weeks after a white-tailed deer or moose sheds its antlers, a new group begins to grow. Growth is triggered by increased daylight and subsequent testosterone production. Adult whitetail deer antlers can grow ¼ inch a day, while moose antlers grow about an inch a day. Moose regrow several months after moulting, making their growth rate even more impressive. A moose in its prime can grow up to a pound of antlers a day!
Genetics and age play a role, but good nutrition is the driving force behind growing great antlers. A healthy diet rich in protein can lead to an impressive shelf. Therefore, a quality habitat is a must!
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Elk generate new antlers every year, and as they are given more time to mature, the new antlers keep getting better and bigger. In early March, some moose lose their antlers and begin to develop new ones, while others, especially younger ones, retain their antlers until the end of April. This allows the male moose a window of time before the fall mating season.
After studying elk and wolves in Yellowstone National Park, wildlife experts believe they have discovered the reason why male elk lose their old antlers at different times. The researchers concluded after analyzing data collected over 12 years that wolves prey on male moose that have lost their antlers. Contrary to the belief that predators prefer to target sick or weak prey, wolves will attack antlerless male moose even if they are healthy.
The immature antlers are covered with short, dense fur called velvet. Velvet allows oxygen-rich blood to reach the growing antlers, which begin as cartilage and calcify into bone. Antler abnormalities can be caused by injuries to the velvet or by genetics. Growing antlers are expensive. In poor habitats, a deer’s bone density will decrease as its body absorbs calcium and places it in hardened antlers. A male moose spends a quarter of the energy of the 80 pounds of vegetation he eats each day on growing antlers. The moose cow uses this energy to prepare for winter. Once the antlers reach their final size, the velvet dries out and itches. You’ll see deer, moose, and moose rubbing their newly formed antlers against trees and other vegetation to remove the velvet. Since velvet is leather, rubbing it can look pretty bad. But you’re unlikely to see it because white-tailed deer can remove all of the velvet in just 24 hours.
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The find shed light on the difficult choice a male moose must make each year. If they lose their antlers before the next breeding season, they have a better chance of finding a mate but are also at greater risk of falling prey to wolves because they lack antlers for defence. They will be safer if they keep their old antlers longer, but they might appear less attractive as mating season approaches.