- Close relatives
- Giant Megaloceras Origins
- Description of the giant animal
- Giant deer antlers
- Later scientific research
Although the big-horned deer has long since died out, its image, restored on the basis of archaeological finds, delights and amazes even today. The greatest interest is caused by its large antlers, like those of an elk. There is not and never was a second such deer in the world!
The giant deer (lat. Megaloceros giganteus) is also called the Irish elk because of its huge antlers. This species of extinct mammal belonged to the deer family (lat. Cervidae), the order of artiodactyls, the suborder of ruminants (lat. Ruminantia). This is one of the largest deer that ever lived on Earth.
Because of its spade-shaped antlers, this extinct species of giant deer was thought to be a close relative of the elk and modern fallow deer from the beginning. Later morphological and molecular studies have proven its relationship with the current Canadian deer (lat. Cervus elaphus canadensis) and red deer (lat. Cervus elaphus). Only recent genetic studies have conclusively confirmed that the closest relative of Megaloceros giganteus is, in fact, the European fallow deer.
Giant Megaloceras Origins
Archaeological studies show that Megaloceros giganteus lived in Northern Europe and Northern Asia (lived in almost all of Eurasia: from Ireland to Lake Baikal), as well as on the northern outskirts of Africa. Most of the fossil remains of the animal were found in the swamps of present-day Ireland, hence its second name - the Irish elk. We add that the term "moose" was assigned to him because of the external similarity of the horns. Several skeletons of this giant were also found on the territory of our country (Crimea, North Caucasus, Sverdlovsk and Ryazan regions).
These prehistoric animals lived at the end of the Pleistocene and at the beginning of the Holocene, that is, in the period from 400 thousand to 7700 years ago. Megaloceros giganteus probably belonged to the so-called Pleistocene and early Holocene megafauna. In particular, saber-toothed tigers, bears and cave lions, smilodons, as well as mammoths and hairy rhinos, who together with him made up the group of the largest herbivores of that period, lived next to him.
Description of the giant animal
The size of the big-horned deer significantly exceeded the size of modern deer. In its appearance, it rather resembled the well-known elk. A strong physique is more of a pattern than an exception. There is nothing surprising in it, because the animal had to carry its huge horns, and this requires a mountain of muscles and strong bones. In body structure, he was similar to the Alaskan elk (lat. Alces alces gigas), which is currently consideredbeing the largest living member of the genus. The big-horned deer reached about 2.1 m in height at the withers. Despite its huge size, it ate the same food as today's deer. From the cave paintings created by the ancient people of the Pleistocene and Holocene, it is clear that they often met with this giant and even hunted him.
Giant deer antlers
The impressive antlers of the giant deer had a span of about three meters. The largest antlers of this deer found during archaeological excavations reached 3.65 m, and weighed almost 40 kg! This fact is so unusual and unique that even several different theories of their evolution have appeared. Some scientists are of the opinion that such horns in an animal are the result of strict natural selection. Males actively used the formations on their heads in the struggle for the attention of females. Thus, only the largest and strongest individuals survived and gave birth.
According to another theory, the Irish deer became extinct because of their antlers. At some point, they reached a very bulky size and began to interfere with the usual way of life. The reason for the extinction of the species, scientists call the forest attack on the open spaces in which it probably lived. The horns interfered with the animal while passing through dense thickets and forests, because of this, he often got stuck and could not get out. The deer became easy prey for predators, who eventually exterminated them.
Later scientific research
This evolutionary theory was formulated by scientists a long time ago. However, it was not until 1974 thata study on Megaloceros by Stephen Jay Gould, it was examined in more detail. He proved that the bighorn deer had really large and disproportionate antlers. This was probably the result of allometry, that is, uneven growth. As a result, the proportions of the body were violated.
Gould found that the large size of the horns and the possibility of their appearance in Megaloceros giganteus were due to evolutionary selection. However, the horns, in his opinion, were ill-suited for competitive fights between males of this extinct species. They probably served only to intimidate rivals. Apparently, unlike other deer, Megaloceros giganteus could not even turn his head to demonstrate his superiority. It was enough that he stood and looked ahead. In 1987, another scientist, Kitchener, provided evidence that these prehistoric animals sometimes used their huge horns to fight male rivals.