Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Species Spotlight: Elk

September 14, 2011, 7:04 am

By: Heather Crowley

Odds are if you’ve traveled to National Parks in the West, you’ve spotted elk. These loveable ungulates reside in a multitude of America’s National Parks, including Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and Theodore Roosevelt. Elk once lived in a much larger range, however humans killed off a large portion of the population and forced them into remote areas. Elk also live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where they were reintroduced in 2001.

The elk are recognizable by their distinct reddish brown coat with a lighter rump patch. Elk can be further distinguished from deer by their small dark colored manes. Elk can be seen in herds, which provides for their needs to graze while having safety in numbers.

Bulls can reach over 700 pounds while cows average 525 pounds. For males, antlers grow faster than any other type of bone. In the summertime, antlers can grow up to an inch a day! It is important to always keep at least 25 yards between yourself and elk.

During the winter, elk grow a new coat of fur. These coats are made of long, waterproof guard hairs. Often spotted grazing, these herbivores consume grass, twigs and even tree bark during the winter.

Females generally give birth to a single calf in early summer. The babies are able to stand just 20 minutes after being born--talk about a quick learner! These young will be dependent their mother until she has another calf, which is usually the following summer.

Fun Facts

The top two canine teeth of an elk are called ivories. Scientists hypothesize they are remnants of tusks that ancestral species used in combat. These teeth are made of ivory and elk are the only known North American mammal to produce ivory teeth.

New antlers are covered in fuzzy skin called velvet.

Elk are also known by their Native American name of Wapiti.

Before European settlers arrived to the North American portion of the planet, there were an estimated 10 million elk. That number was reduced to less than 100,000 by 1900.

Historians estimate that the Corps of Discovery ate at least 375 elk during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.