What Did The Irish Elk Eat?

There is just no way to tell with certainty what these enormous elk consumed during their lives. Based on related creatures and the environments they lived in, scientists can only make educated guesses about their diet.

You can presume that these elk were herbivores, like the majority of other Cervidae members. They probably consumed grasses, leaves, stems, bushes, herbs, fruits, and any other vegetation that was similar.

Ireland elk

One of the biggest animals to ever exist was the Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus), also known as the enormous deer or Irish deer. It belonged to the genus Megaloceros and is now extinct. During the Pleistocene, it had a range that spanned all of Eurasia, from Ireland to Lake Baikal in Siberia. Carbon dating has determined that the most recent remnants of the species were found in western Russia around 7,700 years ago.

Numerous skeleton remains that have been discovered in Irish bogs have provided information about the Irish elk. It is not closely related to either of the extant species that are currently known as elk: Cervus canadensis or Alces alces (the European elk, often known as the moose in North America) (the North American elk or wapiti). Because of this, the term “huge deer” rather than “Irish elk” is used in some sources. The majority of phylogenetic analyses support the idea that the Irish elk’s closest living relatives are fallow deer, despite one study contending that they are closely related to the red deer (Cervus elaphus) (Dama).

Do they eat anything?

According to some research on the Irish elk’s lifestyle, we may say that they were both grazers and browsers. It might consume artemisia and Asteraceae, helianthemum, plantago salix, and plumbaginaceae as food sources. More grass and foods based on grass were consumed by them, along with occasional browsing. They ate in a variety of ways, including grazing, feeding, and extensive leaf-browsing.

Where lived the Irish Elk?

These enormous animals, known as Irish elk, actually originated in Northern Asia, Northern Europe, and Northern Africa. They lived in woods, meadows, woodlands, and the boreal steppe. These regions were rich in grasses, spruce trees, herbs, shrubs, and other types of flora that Irish elk, which are herbivores, ate. According to experts, they needed to consume 90 pounds (40.8 kilograms) of new forage each day to promote the growth of their antlers.

Because so many of their carcasses are discovered in Irish bogs, they are known as Irish elk. Because there is little oxygen to support microorganisms that decompose organic remains, Irish bogs are particularly good at conserving remains.

Irish elk skeletons can still be found today in a number of locations, such as Warwick Castle in England and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.

A big Irish elk is digitally animated in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. Thranduil the King rode it into combat!

Irish History of Elk

The extinct Irish elk, also known as the enormous deer or Irish deer, belonged to the Megaloceros genus. Since so many bones, skulls, and of course enormous antlers have been unearthed in Ireland, they must have made a great home there, but remains have been found all over their range.

Speaking of, most scientific studies describe the Irish elk as a particularly adaptive and flexible species due to their vast range, which ranged from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to Lake Baikal in the Russian frontier. They appeared to have adapted to the spruce and pine-filled boreal steppe-woodland settings, but they felt most at home in low-lying areas with plants, especially grasses.

Given that they both have palmated antlers, it has been suggested that they may have a common ancestor with fallow deer. However, Irish elks are far larger than fallow deer, and their enormous antlers dwarf those of the latter. During the winter and spring, Irish elk most likely divided into bachelor groups like modern deer, elk, and moose do. When the breeding season was about to begin, these same individuals would assemble with the rest of the population (herd).

Stags or bulls would have undoubtedly competed for control of female harems in order to secure breeding privileges. Considering that Irish elk would have required a tremendous amount of energy and calcium to grow, it is quite likely that they too shed their antlers in the winter following the rut, or mating season. The enormous Irish elk antlers were believed to have been more vital for herd dominance, but they were also crucial for display when it came to luring cows to mate with them. Similar to modern deer, individuals with greater antlers were able to pass on their genes while those with smaller antlers were skipped over.

They most likely were grazers, although they might have also preferred leaf-browsing in the common willow and birch trees of the time.

Scientists believe that some extinct creatures, including the Irish elk once immortalized in poem by Seamus Heaney, may walk on Earth again as breakthroughs continue in cloning.

Even while the science of cloning is still in its infancy, many scientists today concur that it will soon be a practical alternative.

In order to successfully clone an extinct animal, according to Mother Nature Network, “scientists need to uncover animal DNA that is almost wholly intact.”

Some species will therefore be better prospects for resurrection than others.

Animals that have been expertly kept in natural history museums, for instance, are better candidates for cloning.

Also excellent options are extinct animals that were preserved in permafrost during the previous ice period.

According to MNN, one of these species that might be revived by cloning is the Irish elk.

“The Irish elk was another megafauna that perished as a result of the end of an ice age. The website states that it is incorrect to refer to this animal as an elk because a recent DNA research revealed that it was actually a deer—the biggest deer to have ever lived.

“Its antlers alone were as wide as twelve feet. The Irish elk is a strong candidate for cloning because, like other creatures that lived in the frigid north during the Pleistocene, preserved specimens are easily discovered in thawing permafrost.

The enormous antlers on the skulls are frequently displayed on the walls of castles and hunting lodges.

The fact that there are numerous, well-preserved fossils of this magnificent, seven-foot-tall species all throughout the planet makes it a logical choice for scientists conducting cloning experiments.

The Irish elk, with its “arresting size and singular appearance, is of great significance to paleontologists because of the way in which the animal has become involved in evolutionary debates down through the years,” according to the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

According to the website, the Irish elk finally went extinct when their antlers grew so big that they couldn’t support their heads or became tangled in the trees.

When did the Irish elk go extinct?

Megaloceros giganteus, the Irish Elk, roamed Pleistocene Europe and Asia about 400,000 years ago. It was extinct for the species about 8,000 years ago. The name is a bit misleading because the animal wasn’t specifically Irish or an elk, but it was a very enormous deer, measuring about 7 feet at the shoulder. The species is primarily noted for its abnormally large antlers, which can reach a length of 12 feet. Biologists have been debating the function of the cartoonish antlers for years since they were so remarkable.

Even the renowned evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould became intrigued by the antler riddle in 1974. A widespread notion at the time was that the antlers actually were responsible for the animal’s extinction. Gould discredits fanciful hypotheses that claimed the antlers were to blame for a range of health issues. A more practical issue is the annual energy-intensive process by which male deer lose their antlers and grow them back. Additional metabolic expenses would have resulted from the antlers’ weight.

According to the available data, the enormous deer appeared suddenly in reaction to the environment’s change when the glaciers retreated.

The notion that the elk’s antlers were to blame for its demise stemmed from the thought that the animal progressively evolved, getting bigger and more vulnerable to environmental change with each new generation. Darwin supported this viewpoint. Gould claims that this theory has absolutely no supporting evidence. The data instead points to the big deer emerging suddenly in reaction to the environment’s altering as the glaciers retreated.

What causes these “bizarre” antlers to grow, then? Gould looked explored the correlation between antler size and body size in various deer species. His findings showed that, rather than being extraordinary, the enormous antlers were about the size that would be expected for such a huge deer. Wide antlers wouldn’t hinder the megaloceros’ movement because they lived on open terrain. Comparatively, moose, which are roughly the same size, have significantly smaller antlers, perhaps to make it easier for them to move around their woodland home.

The idea that the antlers were a problem was predicated on the idea that they must be weapons, employed either against predators or other males. The awkward antlers wouldn’t make good weapons, according to Gould. To attract females or to assert dominance over other males and gain access to breeding, their remarkable appearance would make them perfect for display. In this way, the enormous antlers would serve as a selective benefit rather than a barrier. Larger antler owners would have more offspring, perpetuating the characteristic throughout the population. The quick climatic changes that led to the Irish Elk’s extinction rather than its enormous antlers.

Where did the Irish elk disappear to?


1977. Gould, S.J. The Irish are mislabeled, mistreated, and misunderstood.

in his poem vividly describes the Irish elk and the bogs where its fossils can be found.