Roosevelt Elk

What are some features that help Roosevelt Elk survive?

One of the most important adaptations that the elk has is their antlers. The antler is a long bone that is connected to the skull. There are usually six points, or protrusions, that are coming from the base. The range and size of elk antlers is so diverse that there isn’t much of a range. Some of the larger ones that have been seen were 64 to 74 inches.

The antlers have a peculiar skin like material that grows around it called velvet. The velvet is a covering that circulates blood throughout the antlers that allows it to grow. The velvet eventually dries up and stops circulating as much blood. When this happens, the elk begins to rub the velvet off which results in the bare bone to be the major extremity showing. When the velvet is rubbed off the bone stops growing.


Long after the velvet rubs off the antler will eventually fall off. Sometimes the antler will get caught on a branch or bush and fall off in that manner. In some cases a sudden jerk of the head is enough to break the antlers off. When the antler is broken off there is a very loud and audible crack that can be heard. Usually when the antler snaps the elk will run away in fear that there is a threat around(Whitehead 1972).


Antlers serve primarily as the major defensive mechanism that Roosevelt elk have. Although the antlers don't look menacing they can actually pack a punch. They have actually gotten the name "dog-killer" and "war tines" from experiences people have had(Murie 1951). When a bull elk is threatened it will drop its head and show that it will use its antlers for protection. When the elk is lucky the threat will leave, but other times the elk will charge with the antlers facing forward. Antlers can do some serious damage and shouldn't be taken jokingly.


Sometimes the threat that an elk faces is from a fellow elk. Usually this is when mating season is upon them. When an elk is the herd master another elk may try to mate with their cows. When this happens the intruder will try to intimidate the herd master. Herd master will respond by standing up to the other bull. If the intruder gets too close during the encounter the herd master will charge with his antlers aimed towards the intruder. There has never been a time when someone witnessed the intruder stand their ground when the would herd master charge. This usually results in the intruder just running away with the herd master giving chase for a small period of time. The antlers also pay a pivotal role if the intruder just charges the elk without trying the intimidation process. The herd master will then use his antlers to defend himself and possibly go on the offensive to stop the elk from trying to mate with his cows.


The elk have very specialized teeth(Murie 1951). The teeth of elks are made for grinding the material that they consume. Since they are herbivores they need this grinding method to get all the nutrients they can from plants. Plants are harder to digest so this mechanical digestion helps later in when the elk tries to absorb as many nutrients as it can.

     The jaw of the elk has a few teeth in the front used for grabbing and tearing. Then moving backward the jaw has a break where there are no teeth following a long stretch of large teeth that have some ridges on them. The ridges are used to help with grinding and breaking down the food as much as possible. These teeth can be comparable to the molars of humans. They are made for grinding, just like human molars. Everything from the large size to the small ridges are adaptations for grinding.

The last adaptation that elk have is the hooves that they use to walk long distances. They are specialized to protect the feet from the many different types of terrain while also being specialized to be able to scale many mountains and steep surfaces.


These hooves also have a defensive purpose. The females don’t have any antlers so they only have their hooves as a defensive measure. Instead of charging with their head down, when a threat comes near the female elk they will buck towards the threat and try to scare them off. This doesn’t seem like much of a threat but the hind legs of an elk are very powerful and their hooves are razor sharp(Whitehead 1972).


Back to Habitat                                                                                                                                                                        Forward to Nutrition