Full name: Megaloceros giganteus
Name Meaning: Large horn gigantic
Geologic Era: Pleistocene
Location Discovered: Rhine river area, Germany
Size: 7 feet tall at shoulders; antlers up to 12 feet across
Estimated Range: British Islands to Russia
Extinction Date: 10,000 years ago; may have persisted longer in isolated areas (youngest specimen 7,700 years old found in Siberia)
Fauna Type: Mammal
Specimen Types: Right mandible, partial antler, partial radioulna, pathological cannon bone
Megaloceros giganteus is one of the more recent animals in our collection, and one of the few that may have existed into historic times.
The name “Irish Elk” came to be because this species is commonly found in Irish bogs, though they are much more closely related to deer than modern elk. This animal boasted antlers that could reach a span of 12 feet. Megaloceros probably behaved much as modern deer do, travelling in herds with females outnumbering males. They would have been prey animals for animals such as the European Cave Lion (Panthera leo spelaea), wolves, and probably humans.
Megaloceros was one of the megafauna, or larger versions of modern animals that survived until the end of the last Ice Age. Modern humans did interact with them, as evidenced by cave painting which appear to depict Megaloceros. Some of these paintings depict Megaloceros as having a darker body with lighter chest, which is what the life reconstruction is based on.
Megaloceros may have been preserved in folklore. Old Irish and German tales occasionally mention an animal that closely resembled Megaloceros. It is possible that isolated Megaloceros populations survived long enough to be passed down in oral traditions. In Middle Irish, it may have been called the segh or faighore. In Middle High German, it may have been called the Schelch. Middle German already had a word for the modern Elk (Elch), so the Schelch was clearly something different enough to warrant its own term.
|Megaloceros full skeleton: Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL (photo taken by Hilary Sifling)|
Megaloceros Life Restoration: By Bazonka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons