Big-horned deer is the largest member of the deer family


Big-horned deer or Irish deer is an extinct species, which belongs to the deer family, a giant deer genus. He lived in Eurasia from Ireland to North Asia and in Africa. He had a great growth and huge horns, in connection with which he could only live in the meadows, as in a wooded area he could not move because of his horns. The last remains of this species date back to the age of 7700 years and are found in Siberia. Most skeletons are found in the marshes of Ireland, hence the second name.

general description

This species has lived on Earth for the last few million years. Comfortably existed in Europe, North Asia, Africa and some parts of China. The height at the withers of these animals reached 2.1 meters. The span of the horns between the extreme tips was 3.7 meters with a weight of 40 kg. Body weight was 540-600 kg. The largest individuals weighed 700 kg and even more. A large collection of skeletons of Irish deer is in the Museum of Natural History in Dublin.

Causes of Irish Deer Extinction

As some scientists suggest, large horns were formed as a result of natural selection. Males with larger horns accessed the female. And so the horns increased from generation to generation. In the end, they became so cumbersome that the animals could no longer lead a normal life and became extinct.

Other experts are of the opinion that the reason for the disappearance of the species was not the size of the horns, but the advance of the forests on the treeless plains. As a result, the habitat has decreased, the amount of feed needed has decreased, and the representatives of the species have gradually become extinct. As for the horns, their size was proportional to body size and weight, and therefore they could not cause the death of a huge number of large-horned deer. That is, there is no consensus on this issue, which is quite understandable given the huge time interval separating the modern world from that distant era.

The big-horned deer found in recent years on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea lived 7,700 years ago, and their horns are shorter compared to the horns of those animals whose remains are found in Ireland. This indicates intraspecific allometry. That is, smaller representatives of the species had shorter horns. That is, we can not talk about the constant increase in bone formations on the head.

Therefore, the big-horned deer most likely disappeared at the end of the last ice age as a result of environmental changes, infectious diseases and people hunting for it. Here you can talk about the whole complex of a variety of factors, which in varying degrees influenced the animal and, eventually, led to its death. The same fate befell many other large mammals in that period.

Closest relatives

Because of the spade-shaped horns, this extinct species of giant deer was from the very beginning considered a close relative of elks and modern fallow deer. Later morphological and molecular studies have proven its relationship to the current Canadian deer (lat. Cervus elaphus canadensis) and red deer (lat. Cervus elaphus). Only recent genetic studies have definitively confirmed that the close relative of Megaloceros giganteus, in fact, is the European fallow deer.

Giant megaloceras: the origin

Archaeological research shows that Megaloceros giganteus lived in Northern Europe and Northern Asia (lived in almost all of Eurasia: from Ireland to Lake Baikal), as well as in the northern fringes of Africa. Most of the animal’s fossil remains were found in the marshes of present-day Ireland, hence its second name is the Irish elk. We add that the term "elk" was assigned to him because of the external similarity of the horns. Several skeletons of this giant were found on the territory of our country (Crimea, the 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, from 400 thousand to 7700 years ago. Megaloceros giganteus probably belonged to the so-called megafaune of the Pleistocene and Early Holocene. Saber-toothed tigers, bears and cave lions, smilodons, as well as mammoths and hairy rhinos, which together with him were the group of the largest herbivores of that period, lived next to it.

Description of a giant animal

The size of the big-horned deer significantly exceeded the size of modern deer. In appearance, he rather reminded everyone of a famous moose. A strong physique is more a regularity than an exception. There is nothing surprising in it, because the animal had to bear its huge horns, and for this it needs a mountain of muscles and strong bones. The structure of the body, he was similar to the Alaskan elk (lat. Alces alces gigas), which is currently considered the largest living representative of the genus. Big-horned deer reached about 2.1 m in height at withers. Despite its huge size, he ate the same food as today's deer. From the rock paintings created by the ancient people of the Pleistocene and Holocene epoch, 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 the 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 hard natural selection. Males actively used formations on the head in the struggle for the attention of females. Thus, only the largest and strongest survived and gave birth to offspring.

According to another theory, the Irish deer became extinct due to its horns. At a certain moment, they reached a very cumbersome size and began to interfere with their usual way of life. Scientists call the cause of the extinction of the species an offensive of the forest on the open spaces on which it probably lived. The horns interfered with the animal during its passage through dense thickets and forests, because of this it often got stuck and could not get out. The deer became easy prey for the predators, who eventually destroyed them.

Irish Deer

Irish or Big Deer is an extinct mammal of the genus Giant Deer. It existed in the Pleistocene and Early Holocene. Externally, this animal is very similar to the doe.

Irish deer was the largest species ever. It differed impressive size. The length of his body at the withers was more than two meters, but an even more important feature was the horns. The distance between their tips was 3.5 m, and the span itself was about 4 meters. Outwardly, they looked like a shovel, at the top were greatly expanded and had small processes.

The structure of the teeth, horns and limbs indicates that the animal lived in wet meadows, because with its gorgeous horns a deer could not live in the forest, because of them he could not move freely.

Causes of species extinction

There are many versions of why the giant Irish deer became extinct. According to a recent version of scientists, it turned out that animals simply died of starvation. This was shown by studies of their teeth for the ratio of various carbon and oxygen isotopes. This analysis allowed scientists to determine the dynamics of animal nutrition. As a result, it turned out that the amount of food that animals consumed, has decreased dramatically.

Climatic conditions contributed to all this, the springs became much shorter. The deer had nowhere to migrate, and they became extinct due to the ice age.

Second version

Another version is that females always chose a male with more luxurious horns, as a result of which, as a result of natural selection, individuals with large horns were born that prevented them from eating normally, as they were too heavy. And also animals could not move normally because of horns and could easily become prey for any predator.

Description of the Big Horned Irish Deer

Once upon a time, large-horned deer lived on Earth. They were majestic, graceful, slender animals, whose head was decorated with heavy horns.

The habitat of large-horned deer - megaceros - was a huge territory, stretching from modern Ireland (this is due to the appearance of other animal names - Irish deer or Irish elk) to the Altai Mountains. It seemed that nature itself rebelled against these beauties with huge horns, whose scope often reached 4 m, and such decoration weighed at least 40 kg. Each year, deer threw horns, and each year they grew new.

It must be said that usually large-horned deer preferred to settle in fairly open areas. They did not live in the forests, as massive, heavily branched horns prevented them from moving among the thickets of bushes. Another natural trap for deer became the swamps of peat bogs. Usually, in search of food (delicate young leaves of the bushes) and water, animals passed by the marshes. Getting to the quagmire, male deer more often than not could get out of it - heavy horns prevented. The females had a chance to survive, because they did not have horns.

Why did animals need such big horns? It turns out, only to compete with rivals in mating tournaments. However, even then it happened that the spreading horns of two animals were tangled and they died. Naturalists and paleontologists for a long time were surprised by the fact that deer needed horns only to show off in front of samochka. In other cases, they only interfered with animals.

Big-horned deer were contemporaries not only of mammoths, but also of man. But despite this, people have little hunted these animals. Therefore, it would be wrong to blame a person for the death of this species. Modern scientists see the cause of the disappearance of the Irish moose in changing the landscape of the territory of the usual habitat of deer. The fact is that over time, areas that were once open in the past were covered with dense forests, which led to a decrease in the number of megacers. Gradually, the view completely ceased to exist. Today, people can no longer admire the large-horned deer, animals that lived in the territory of Eurasia as early as the Pleistocene. Archaeologists often find the remains of Irish moose in place of the Paleolithic man sites.

Big Deer Skeleton

A number of scientists are still inclined to doubt that it was not man and his activity that caused the extinction of the species, since the disappearance of big-horned deer in time is associated with the so-called Neolithic revolution. The reasons for it are still not precisely established. Therefore, it is difficult to talk about what was the true cause of the disappearance of the Irish elk: climate change or the predatory attitude of man to nature.

The first primitive mammal species (alloteries, trichonodonts, pantoterias) became extinct in the Cenozoic period. However, some of them have survived to this day. This is a well-known first proto-prototery - the platypus and echidna.