Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
the importance of elk antlers

Today’s post comes from Jazmin Gall, Acting Assistant Discovery Leader at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

Moose are, without a doubt, a magnificent sight to see.

Having the opportunity to see one while camping is a memory that can last a lifetime. It’s something that never goes out of style.

Despite their size, moose can sometimes be difficult to spot. So when we find evidence of them, like their tracks or their fallen antlers, it’s an exciting day!

Not just for your fun

It is quite a pleasure to walk through the woods and stumble upon an elk antler.

elk in the fall

Some people choose to pick it up and take it home, claiming it as a prize to hang over a fireplace or door.

Now, moose are truly impressive creatures and deserve to be appreciated. However, that gratitude is best expressed by taking a photo of your find and then walking away.

This is why:

Provide a “bull” diet for wildlife

Male elk (also called bulls) grow a new pair of antlers each spring to impress potential mates and show off their competitors.

But when winter comes, the breeding season ends and the antlers are no longer useful, so they fall off.

elk in the field

Once the antlers fall to the ground, the moose continues with its life, now a couple of kilos lighter. But the usefulness of these lost horns doesn’t end there!

As these antlers nestle into the forest floor, many other animals seek them out.

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eastern squirreleastern squirrel

Rodents such as mice, chipmunks, porcupines and other animals such as raccoons, rabbits, opossums and even deer will take advantage of fallen antlers, gnawing and chewing on them.

Just like us, animals need to have a balanced diet to obtain all the necessary vitamins and minerals, and nibbling on antlers and bones provides them with essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus.

But if all bull elk shed their antlers every year, why don’t we find more whole or even partially consumed antlers on our walks in the woods?

hiker looking at trees in the forest

Well, that’s because when the antlers rest on the ground and the animals take their share, the antlers decompose simultaneously.

Those same nutrients that mammals need are also leaching back into the soil, now available for plants to use.

Antlers play a fundamental role in the nutrient cycle of an ecosystem.

That’s why we suggest leaving the antlers on the forest floor.

Many animals and plants depend on them for their proper growth and development. We humans only appreciate them as a work of art in our homes.

Leave no trace principles have a double meaning: ensuring that we leave no evidence of our presence and not taking any evidence of wildlife with us.

Don’t forget: it is prohibited to remove any natural object from a provincial park and you could face a fine.