Elk, also known as wapiti or by its scientific name Cervus Canadensis, is one of the largest deer species on the planet. In addition they are also one of the largest land mammals in North America and Eastern Asia. Elk are no longer considered to be a subspecies of the red deer based on the results of a 2004 mitochondrial DNA study. For reference, female elks are referred to as cows and male elks are referred to as bulls. Elk are native to North America and Eastern Asia however they have been successfully introduced into other countries. The normal habitat for elk is the forest and since they are herbivores they feed on plants, leaves, grass and bark.
Elk have an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. The average height of an elk at its shoulders is about 4 to 5 feet while their weight can range from 325 to 1,100 pounds. Male elk have antlers that start growing around springtime and shed in the wintertime. Amazingly, the size of elk antlers can get to be as big 4 feet long and weigh as much as 40 pounds according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Elk antlers can grow as fast as an inch per day and are made of bone and covered with skin that is known as velvet. The growth and shedding of the male elk's antlers is based on testosterone. This is why after mating season male elk will shed their antlers, which is usually during the onset of winter.
Female elk do not have any antlers and during mating season they have a very short estrus cycle which can last typically for only one to two days. During their estrus cycle it's common for elks to make more than a dozen attempts. Female elk reach calf bearing ability by the age of two or at least 440 pounds in weight. However, they usually can only produce one offspring but on rare occasion two. Full gestation for elk is about 240 to 260 days with the average weight of their offspring being between 32 and 36 pounds. Female elk will isolate themselves from the herd when they are ready to give birth and stay isolated until the calf is big enough to evade predators. Elk calves will remain with their mother for almost year and they usually part when it comes close to next year's mating season.
Elk were once common across most of North America however due to over hunting and population growth they were driven into remote locations across North America. Today you'll find the largest elk populations in the western part of North America. Some hot spot areas for elk in North America are mountainous type landscapes such as Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming's National Elk Refuge. Some states on the eastern part of the United States have started trying to reintroduce small elk herds into heavy forest areas.