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The Behavior and Habitat of Elk in the Wild

written by: jiqx07•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 2/19/2013

Learn some interesting facts about elk diet, behavior and habitat.

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    elk_introduction Wild animals are surprisingly resilient to often harsh environments and elk are no exception. Learn how elk survive in the wild including where they live and how they thrive. We will examine behavior, predator repelling abilities, reproduction, migration and diet adaptation.

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    Behavior

    elk_fighting 

    A mature male elk, or bull, has to perform several tasks during its lifetime. One of the most important is the ability to pass its genes to its offspring. That is exactly what the job of a mature male elk is. The bull will sometimes dig a hole on the ground and urinate in the hole. This will increase its chance to attract female elk who are attracted to the smell.

    Elk retain their antlers for more than six months of the year. While antlers are important for protection, they also serve as a means to attract females and scare away other males. When two male elk are competing for a group of females, the elk with smaller antlers would simply walk away without any physical interference. However, when two elk with similarly sized antlers meet, that is when fights might break out. One or both elk can get injured, and the winner will be able to claim the females. This means that only the strongest and biggest elk are able to pass their genes on further contributing to the survival of the species.

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    Diet

    elk_grazing 

    Elk are herbivores, which means they eat only plants. In order to maximize food resources, the elk has a four part stomach. Each part of the stomach is specialized in digesting one of the four types of plant food it ingests: grass, shrubs, tree limbs and bark. Second, elk’s teeth are specialized in biting off tree leaves and mashing them into thin fibers.

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    Predator Repelling Abilities

    elk_resting 

    Elk have specific tactics they use for protection. Adult male elk retain their antlers more than six month of a year. That would provide ample protection from a number of predators including wolves, especially during the winter when food is scarce. After shedding their antlers, single elk can be very vulnerable to wolf attacks. Therefore, male elks tend to form bachelor groups as a means of defense.

    The elk's heavy coat and strong legs allow them to not only survive in harsh winter conditions, but also to escape and fend off predators.

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    Migration

    roosevelt_elk 

    As is true with many other herbivorous species, elk migrate to higher elevations in the spring, due to retreating snows and more food availability, and return during the fall. Predation, hunting, and food availability may alter elk migrating patterns. For example, Roosevelt elk generally do not migrate, due to less seasonal variation in their food resources.