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Difference Between Elk and Deer

deer_elkElk vs Deer
The deer family is a large group of grazing or browsing ruminants that cover the globe. Some common deer species are moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and sambar. For the most part, these species hold more similarities with their cousins than differences, but there are some key distinctions between deer and elk.

Most people in North America refer to white-tailed deer as deer, just as we will be doing for the duration of this article. However, white-tails are a species within the deer family, Cervidae.

Similarities
Both species are ruminants, meaning that they have a four-chambered stomach full of bacteria that allows them digest nearly all varieties of plant matter.
Both species mate in the fall and during that time males lose a significant portion of their body weight as they attempt to mate with as many females as possible.
Baby deer (fawns) and baby elk (calves) are born in the spring. They are marked with distinctive white colored spots that they lose before their first winter.
The males of both species grow a new set of antlers annually. As these antlers are growing during the spring and summer they are covered with a soft tissue known as velvet.

There are also many ways in which you can tell elk and deer apart.

Morphology
Elk are large animals. Males weigh around 700lb when they reach maturity, and stand 5 feet long and 8 feet tall. Females are smaller and only weight 500lb. Elks are covered with a shaggy brown coat that gets thicker in the winter. Males also grow a thick mat of hair around their necks at that time. Elk noses are large, round, and droopy.

Deer ‘“ top out at 300lb for mature males. Females rarely weight more than 200lb. Deer stand around 3 ½ feet tall and can grow to as long as 7 feet in length. Their coats are reddish tinged in the summer and dull out to a gray in the winter. The most distinctive feature of the deer is its white tail, which it raises in alarm.

Vocalization
Elk make a distinctive bugling call that can be heard for miles around. Variations are used for mating and as a cry of distress.
Deer communicate with bleats and grunts, but also make liberal use of non-auditory means, such as scents.

Diet
Elk  are browsers and feed on a variety of grasses found on the edges of woodlands.
Deer  are grazers that prefer legumes but also eat shoots, leaves, and grasses.

Summary
1. Deer and elk have many similarities including their taxonomical family, digestion process, and reproductive cycle.
2. Elk are much larger than deer. The two animals are also distinguishable by their coats.
3. Elk communicate louder and more distinctivly than deer.
4. Elk are grazers and deer are browsers.


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10 Comments

  1. i think you have browser and grazer confused

  2. Why would you put a picture of a moose up when it’s a discussion of elk vs deer?

    • Funnily enough, the word “elk”, which comes from the Latin word “alcus”, originally described the animal most North Americans now call “moose”, as they are found in northern continental Europe. But by the time British settlers came to North America, the moose/elk had died off in Britain, so they wound up using the name “elk” for the other large deer found in North America, which are also known as “wapiti”, from a Native American term. Subsequently, the even larger deer with the dark fur and plamate (hand-like) antlers became known as moose, after another native term for that animal. In Britain, however, the moose is still called an elk, so the picture is actually correct in British usage.

      That said, this question is misphrased. Not only because moose elk and wapiti elk are both (very large) deer (so the question is a false dichotomy), but also because the answer is based on the idea that in American usage “deer” usually means white-tailed deer, which is incorrect; there are multiple species of deer in North America that are commonly called “deer”, including mule deer found in the plains and black-tailed deer in the Pacific Northwest.

    • I wondered the same thing.

  3. One is called an elk and the other is called a deer.

  4. One is a HOBO and the other is just plain dumb

  5. The question we are trying to answer is how high up the mountain do deer turn into elk (wapiti not moosi) – we don’t have no mountains so the deer(white tailed mostly) and the elk (only a few now) hang out more of less in the same woods. The elk like the drier, upland areas. The deer hang out in the lower areas where there is more to eat. The moose seem to like really wet areas. So, elk ( they’re really big, a bit worrying, like moose – don’t hit one with your car or Paul’s truck). Each have a wolf to predate them (other than us) – the so called timber wolf is actually an elk wolf. The red wolf, Virginia wolf is the deer wolf and should be encouraged to control deer numbers and good health, except that it cross breeds with the rabbit wolf or kiyote and eats human pets in the urban and suburban wilder areas. So my answer; elk up high, deer low, moose very low. See Tim Flannery’s The eternal frontier for where and when they come from in the great lakes country. O yeah there’s the caribou as well (or there were!)

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