View Full Version : Difference between deer and elk?

September 9, 2006, 10:57 AM
Following up on threads in which Megalocerus (the extinct Irish elk) were proposed as a deer big enough to need a .338, and so on, I looked them up on internet sites. Several remarked that, despite the size, Megalocerus was a deer and not an elk.

What's the biological difference between deer and elk?

Worldwide, what's the biggest deer species, now that the Irish elk has gone to the Great Beyond?

September 9, 2006, 12:23 PM
Good question. I dunno, but my understanding is that one difference is that elk have a slightly different digestive system, that allows them to digest grasses, whereas deer (or at least whitetail deer) cannot digest most grasses, and thus must eat shoots, twigs, leaves, and forbs only. But that may not be a true distinction, since I believe some deer do this too. The red stag of Europe is also large, almost the size of our elk, but it's called a deer.


September 9, 2006, 01:32 PM
Elk,whitetail deer, and mule deer are in the same subfamily Odocoilinae.So, from a biological standpoint they are pretty closely related.

September 11, 2006, 02:35 AM
Elk, moose, caribou, and deer are very closely related. Biologically, they are all Mammals (warm-blloded, bearing live young, nursing), Ungulates (have hooves), Artiodactyls (cloven hooves), Ruminants (cud chewers), Cervids (deer family). The only difference between deer and elk and moose is the genus and species. This indicates that they are highly evolved and adapted to specific environments.

To give it in layman's terms, dogs, wolves and coyotes are more closely related than deer and elk are.

Jack O'Conner
September 12, 2006, 07:10 AM
I was curious about this creature also. About a year ago, I found out that the "Irish elk" was actually a giant form of fallow deer. This is a photo of a trophy fallow deer.


September 12, 2006, 08:37 PM
Hmm. Loooks like I'll have to do some further reading. :confused:

Dave R
September 12, 2006, 10:27 PM
I hear that deer are browsers, and elk are grazers.


September 13, 2006, 01:54 PM
Fallow deer are an Asian variety, and weigh about 100 lbs for a decent buck. Axis deer are also from Asia and of similar size. Red deer are from Europe and can weigh 400 pounds. Roe deer are from Europe, about 40 pounds. Musk deer are from Asia, very small and have fangs. So far, no one has proven conclusively what the lineage of the Irish elk is.

Deer are very highly evolved animals. Some deer are browsers, some are grazers, some eat water plants, some eat lichens, some eat fungi. If you can name a plant, some ruminant probably evolved to eat it. On the North American continent, that would probably include deer (from blacktails at 100 pounds to moose at 1000+ pounds) and bison.

Jack O'Conner
September 13, 2006, 08:03 PM

Sorry Scorch, but fallow deer originated from Macedonia. The largest sub-species are known as Persian fallow deer. Asia never has had fallow deer. European noblemen introduced fallow deer to their estates well before the 14th century. George Washington was first to bring them to North America to his Mt. Vernon home.

Pt. Reyes Nat'l Seashore, California has very large and wild trophy fallow deer. They were introduced by the first Caucasian owner of this scenic land over a 100 years ago.

New Zealand and New Calodonia have very large numbers of these deer. Trophy hunting is reputed to be quite good indeed.

Axis deer originated from India and Ceylon.

September 13, 2006, 08:18 PM
From Wikipedia
In the Holocene, the distribution was restricted to the Middle East and possibly also parts of the Mediterranean region, while further southeast in western Asia was the home of a close relative, the Persian Fallow Deer (Dama mesopotamica), that is bigger and has larger antlers.
The Middle East is part of Asia. Not to say there are not fallow deer in Macedonia or Greece, but "the distribution was restricted" means it didn't live anywhere else.
Also from Wikipedia-
The Fallow Deer was spread across central Europe by the Romans, and introduced to the British Isles by the Normans. The Normans kept them for hunting in the royal forests, as was the use of later rulers. From the 12th century onwards, they were released into the wild for hunting purposes.

Jack O'Conner
September 20, 2006, 09:56 AM
If you think the Middle East is the same Asia, you have not been there at all.

Asia is populated by slant-eyed hardy statured short people. Climate ranges from tropical to alpine.

The Middle East is populated by medium stature round eyed people. Climate is arid. I'm not convinced a Korean and a Turk reside in the same region.

Divisions between Middle East nations and American western states were made with a straight edge on a large map. Topography has little to do with the actual borders. Western South Dakota is the same topography as eastern Montana, eastern Wyoming, western North Dakota, western Nebraska, and eastern Colorado. The actual straight line borders mean nothing to wild game. They travel back and forth at will.


September 20, 2006, 11:26 AM
Agreed that the basis for geographic partitions may seem random and make little sense to us, but people for centuries have agreed that Asia includes Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iaq, Iran, etc, the area we refer to as the Middle East. Asia is separated from Europe by the Dardanelles, the Caucaus Mountains, and the Ural Mountains, all pretty substantial physical barriers that slow people down but don't mean a lot to animals.

BTW, I have been to the Middle East, as well as Central Asia, SouthEast Asia, China, and Siberia. I have seen as much variation in ecotones as there are within the North American continent.

September 20, 2006, 11:40 AM

The following countries are listed by one source as part of Asia. However, depending on the source and map, you'll notice that in some instances certain countries are considered part of Asia, while in other sources they're not listed:

East Timor
North Korea
Saudi Arabia
South Korea
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates

September 21, 2006, 06:57 PM
IMO elk are bigger...biologically speaking.:D

September 21, 2006, 11:22 PM
That was funny :D

September 22, 2006, 09:18 AM
I have spent some time working in the Natl. Parks, amazing the questions that can be ask. Kid on my crew one year had a lady ask " when do the deer become elk" true story.

September 22, 2006, 02:25 PM
Youp,They taste better too.

Dave Haven
September 22, 2006, 10:40 PM
I've heard, "At what elevation do deer become elk?" :rolleyes:
They taste better too.Yup, elk taste better.:)

September 23, 2006, 08:56 PM
Anyone here old enough to remember how Megalocerus taste?

September 23, 2006, 09:31 PM
So did you hear the one about the deer who came into a bar? He sat down and commenced nibbling on some nuts and chips. The bartender said, "Hey, you can't do that unless you order a drink."

Deer looked at him, pulled out its pistol and killed the bartender. It got up and left without saying a word.

During the investigation the rookie cop was wondering if the culpret was an elk or a deer. The old detective didn't bat an eye. He said, "Isn't it obvious? It was a deer. A deer eats, shoots and leaves."

September 30, 2006, 06:38 PM
OK, so here's my idea. In my college biology class we learned the difference between a species and a breed. Two species cannot interbreed i.e. a deer cannot breed with an elk; but breeds within a species can interbreed i.e. a whitetail can interbreed, or hybridize, with a mule deer. Deer and Elk are seperate species just as cats and dogs are different species. I think this is the scientific diffence between deer and elk. I may be wrong though. I'm not a biologist.

Rich Lucibella
September 30, 2006, 06:45 PM
Why do some men drop on the spot when hit peripherally with small arms, only to recover later, while others, hit squarely in the boiler room with more than adequate caliber, go on to kill a couple of people before they expire?

Answer: Because they can

Individual, situation, happenstance. There is no magic bullet other than annihilation and anyone who's seen animals, perfectly shot, always drop on the spot has simply not hunted long enough.

Practice before the hunt. Use enough gun during the hunt. Learn to track at the end of the hunt.