Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I haven't told you about any extinct animals for a while, but today I am going to tell you about the Irish Elk.  And the reason I picked this particular animal is because St. Patrick's Day will be here on Saturday, and I liked the idea of writing about an extinct animal that was Irish.  Except that when I started doing my in-depth research on the Irish Elk, I found out that somebody really goofed when they gave it that name, because (1) it isn't an elk, and (2) it isn't even Irish!

The scientific name for the so-called Irish Elk is Megaloceros giganteus, and what it really is is a humongous deer.  In fact, it was the biggest deer that ever lived!  Mostly, it was around during the Pleistocene Epoch, which started 2.6 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago.  Other names for the Irish Elk are Irish Deer or Giant Deer.  Their range was from Ireland on the west, through Europe and  western Asia, to Lake Baikal on the east.  And the reason that people started calling them "Irish" was because lots of really good skeletons of these animals have been found in Irish bogs.

Etching by Will Simmons, 1925
The Irish Elk is really and truly and completely extinct.  It is not related to any extant animal, such as moose or American elk.  It was 7 feet tall at the shoulder, which made it about the same size as a modern moose, but the antlers were way bigger.  The antlers of an Irish Elk could be as wide as 12 feet and weigh up to 88 pounds.  It seems to me like you would get a headache and a sore neck from carrying all this weight around on your head, but nobody ever heard the Irish Elk complain about it, so maybe it didn't bother them.

You might be wondering why the Irish Elk went extinct.  Well, scientists have been wondering the same thing, and nobody knows for sure, but of course scientists always have theories.  For once, the end of  the Irish Elk can't be blamed on too much hunting or habitat destruction by people.  Instead, it seems like maybe when the last Ice Age ended, the type of vegetation available for the giant deer to eat had changed, and they couldn't get enough calcium and phosphate to make their big antlers.  Or else they gradually starved to death.  Or something like that.

Cave painting in Lascaux
The last of the Irish Elk died out in Ireland about 11,000 years ago, but the ones in places like Siberia didn't go extinct until 8,000 years ago.  The best place to see a big collection of Irish Elk skeletons is the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

I kind of wish that the Irish Elk were still around because I think if you put one in a St. Patrick's Day parade and decorated his antlers with a whole bunch of sparkly green streamers, it would look totally cool.  And you could probably win First Prize in the parade, too!


  1. LOL...sorry to start out laughing, but still chuckling from your comment about putting the Irish Elk in a St. Pat's Day parade! :) I was glad to read they were like humongous deer cause that was my first thought when I saw the photo. I've never seen antlers that'd think they would get a headache carrying all that weight! Thanks for today's blog!
    Love, AP

  2. We enjoyed learning about the Irish elk today, but I was wondering where you found such a nice picture of one if they are extinct.

    --Zest, superstar in training

    1. I think that maybe before they went extinct, they posed for some nice painters to make their portraits. At least that's my theory.