| The elk is a large ungulate (hoofed animal) and is a ruminant, eating their food in two stages and having an even number of toes on each hoof, similar to camels, goats and cattle. American and Siberian Elk at one time were divided into several subspecies, but both are very similar in their physical features and in their DNA. |
The largest of the American and Siberian Elk subspecies (C. canadensis canadensis) is the Roosevelt Elk ecotype (roosevelti race) population found west of the Cascade Range in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington. The Roosevelt Elk males have also been transplanted into sections of Alaska, where they have been recorded as weighing up to 1,300 lbs.
The California Tule Elk ecotype (nannodes race) is relatively speaking, the smallest race of Wapitis found in North America although comparable in size to Wapitis in Asia.
At birth, the newborn elk calf weighs 35 pounds. Elk and wapiti calves born in the spring are spotted at birth. Adult American Elk lose all their spots by adulthood.
After a few years, elk cows average 500 pounds, stand 4-1/2 feet at the shoulder, and are 6-1/2 feet from nose to tail.
In North America, male elk are called bulls, and female elk are called cows.
Bull elk are more than 25% larger than cows at maturity, weighing an average of 700 pounds, standing 5 feet at the shoulder and are 8 feet in length.
Only bull elk have antlers which start growing in the spring and are shed each year, usually at the end of winter. The largest antlers may be as much as 4 ft. long and weigh 40 lbs. Antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 1 inch a day and a soft covering known as velvet helps to protect newly forming antlers in the spring.
Adult elk may have six or more tines on each antler, however the number of tines has little to do with the age or maturity of a particular specimen. All elk and wapiti have a six prong plan (six tines on each antler) with a large bez (second) tines with a bend after the third tine.
The Siberian and American Elk carry the largest antlers while the Manchurian Wapiti carry the smallest in proportion to body size. The formation of antlers is testosterone-driven and as their testosterone levels drop in the fall, the velvet is shed and the antlers stop growing.
During the fall, all elk grow a thicker coat of hair which helps to insulate them during the winter. Both male and female Siberian and American elk also grow thick neck manes at this time. Siberian and American Elk also grow the longest and thickest neck manes of all red deer species and subspecies.
All elk have large clearly defined rump patches with short tails. By the time summer begins, the heavy winter coat has been shed, and elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies.
Elk also have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish and darker coat in the summer. Siberian and American Elk have lighter yellowish-brown to orangish-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer.
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