The Megaloceros is a genus of prehistoric mammal and there is no living specimen of it. It is an extinct genus of deer and is popularly known as the giant deer. Compared to the dinosaurs, it was not long ago that it stopped inhabiting the planet.
It inhabited our planet in the previous era, the Cenozoic. Within this classification, it specifically lived in what is known as the Quaternary Period.
The main characteristic of the Megaloceros was the great size they possessed in relation to their contemporaries. The first thing that can be seen of this animal is its large horns and in fact it has the title of having the largest antlers among the deer.
It is really fascinating to imagine that there were some prehistoric ancestors of the current deer… or not? If you’ve been curious to know more about this prehistoric animal, you’re certainly in the right place. Below you will find the most complete information about Megaloceros on the net. Do you dare to discover everything about this giant deer from the past?
- 1 Basic information about the Megaloceros
- 2 The family: the cervids
- 3 Details about the Megaloceros
- 4 When did this giant deer live?
- 5 Where did the Irish moose live?
- 6 What did the Megaloceros feed on?
Basic information about the Megaloceros
This giant deer is also often referred to as the Irish moose. The Megaloceros is a spectacular member of the deer family. They have a close relationship with modern-day deer as we shall see throughout the text. Let’s start with the basic information about this animal.
- How long is it? – The average length of this giant deer was approximately three meters
- What’s your height? – The average height of the Megaloceros was two and a half meters.
- What’s their weight? – The approximate weight of this genus of deer was about 700 kilograms.
- When did it live? – It began to inhabit our planet 2.4 million years ago and would have become extinct “only” 5200 years ago.
- What is its family? – It’s classified within the deer family.
The taxonomy of the Megaloceros
Kingdom Animalia > Filo Chordata > Class Mammalia > Order Artiodactyla > Family Cervidae > Subfamily Cervinae > Genus Megaloceros
Within the genus Megaloceros there were several types of species. In the future you can increase or decrease the list of species and we will take care to have this section updated. In any case, let’s look at the species of Megaloceros that exist today:
The family: the cervids
Megaloceros are a genus of prehistoric mammals belonging to the deer family. In order to learn more about this animal, it would be interesting to find out a little more about the features and characteristics of the deer.
Deer and antelopes are very similar animals and we must be careful not to confuse them. The difference between the two animals is in their horns. While antelope horns were permanent and do not grow back, deer horns do.
Deer horns fall off from time to time and grow back regularly. There is also another difference and that is the family to which each one belongs, deer are of the family of deer, and antelopes are of bovine.
Deer are a family of ruminant mammals that includes several genera of deer and hinds. The deer family still has existing species and genera and among them would be the current deer that you can see in the forests. Now, let’s look at the features that this family of mammals had and still have.
Among the typical characteristics of the deer we can find long, thin legs with hooves split in half. These animals have long ears and a small tail that barely protrudes. In addition, deer are quite agile and are able to both jump and swim perfectly.
In most cases the males are larger than the females and usually the males are the only ones with horns. The only deer in which both sexes have horns are reindeer. All species of deer that exist and have existed have horns. The only antlerless deer is the Chinese Water Deer.
Details about the Megaloceros
Megaloceros share many of the characteristics of the deer family. Knowing all of the above, there is little more to add about the traits of this animal. Still, there are certain interesting aspects and features that distinguish these mammals from the rest of the family.
As we mentioned at the beginning, this is an extinct deer genus. The best known species of this genus is the Megaloceros giganteus due to its large size. Colloquially it is also known as the Irish Elk or the Giant Deer. Even so, not all the species in this genus were necessarily large, but there were several species and all of them were of different sizes.
Currently the smallest species found in this genus is the Megaloceros cazioti which used to be less than one metre high. Something also really curious to note is that although the horns of the different species had different shapes, in all the specimens the horns were in the same proportion to the body.
The horns of this deer were about 3.65 meters long and would have weighed no less than about forty kilos. These horns were temporary and fell off and regenerated every year. This genus would have had the largest horns of all deer.
As is common within animals, the males would have struggled to prove who is the leader. To do this, they used their horns to beat against those of the other males in order to attract females.
As far as reproduction is concerned, the males neglected their young and the protection of the latter was the responsibility of the mother (the doe). They used to have one or two offspring for each pregnancy and the duration of this process was up to ten months. The skin of the newborn calves was usually white patches and in some species they disappeared at the end of their first winter of life.
It took the cubs little time to walk, just half an hour after they were born. It was normal for the mothers to lick their daughter whole after birth to remove the smell. This was because the cubs were born with a fairly strong odor that could attract predators.
In the first week of life they used to hide in the grass for fear of being eaten by hunting animals. After that week they would gain the strength and security to chase their mothers for at least a year.
In most cases the male did not see the mother again, although sometimes the females returned after a week with the male and the young to form a small herd.
The first humans cohabited and represented through rock art the Megaloceros. In them they drew the skins of these animals with a dark tone and the inferior surface (the zone of the belly) in target. In these representations it can be clearly seen that they bear a certain resemblance to today’s deer.
In these prehistoric drawings you can also see a small hump on the shoulders of these animals. According to the experts’ assumptions, the hump would have served to store and reserve body fat in order to survive in very cold weather. It has been contrasted by observing the dorsal vertebrae that would have served as a support.
Why were they called Megaloceros?
The cause of the meaning of their name is due to the great length of their horns. Keep in mind that these horns from end to end were larger than any man’s height. That is why they named him Megaloceros, whose literal meaning would be great horns.
When did this giant deer live?
In this section of our page we are used to put amounts of several millions. This is mainly because most of the content you will find here is about dinosaurs and that in this case it is not one. The Megaloceros was a prehistoric mammal belonging to the deer family.
This giant deer came to Earth “only” about 2.4 million years ago. No doubt it is still many years, although compared to the dinosaurs you could say that they were on our planet almost nothing ago. These giant deer became extinct only about 5,200 years ago.
This time scale corresponds to the end of the Pliocene Epoch and covered the entire Pleistocene Epoch. This time span is better known colloquially as the ice ages.
The Pleistocene Epoch was marked by great glaciations and this epoch came to an end with the last ice age and in turn coincides with the end of the Paleolithic, where the first Homo habilis inhabited from 2.6 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago.
Why did the Megaloceros become extinct?
The fact that they cohabited with the first human beings leads to the suspicion that they were at least the cause of their extinction. The theory that human hunting would have been the main cause of their disappearance has been completely discarded.
It is not that the Megaloceros disappeared from one day to the next because of the human presence. In fact, these giant deer and the first humans cohabited for several hundred (and thousands) years before they became extinct. It is very likely that the first humans were dedicated to hunting these mammals, but the idea that this was the main cause of their extinction is not at all plausible, since it was not the only species they could hunt.
The extinction of this animal coincided with the end of the Pleistocene era. The end of this era was marked by a major climate change. The change of climate would have been the main cause of its extinction, since it meant the disappearance of some plants and a great change in the new types of plants growing in the Eurasian area.
The plants that the Megaloceros used to eat disappeared to give way to some types of plants that were very low in minerals. Minerals are totally necessary in the diet of this mammal, because without them its bones would have grown fragile and even its antlers might not have had enough mineral to regenerate.
The latter would have made them a weak animal and they would have suffered from broken bones. Nor would they have been able to escape from predators, let alone fight each other or other animals.
Where did the Irish moose live?
This extinct mammal is generally attributed to the western European area. This is because the first remains found were in this area. Still, it would have been a very common species and would have inhabited the entire Eurasian area.
The natural habitat of these animals would have been very varied. They could have lived in tropical forests, tundra or woods and bushes. But they could also have survived in open space areas like grasslands and savannahs.
Depending on the areas where the remains of this genus were found, they would have inhabited temperate deciduous forests and tropical forests. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that they may have lived in the places mentioned above.
What did the Megaloceros feed on?
Like today’s deer, this extinct mammal was a boiling animal. This means that they fed mainly on leaves and vegetation in general. It was not very difficult for them, because as we said before, they lived in areas with a high amount of vegetation.
What is curious, not only in the Megaloceros but in all the cervids is their feeding. They were not very selective in their diet but they did tend to eat easily digested vegetation such as fresh herbs, fruits, young leaves, fine branches, lichens and even fungi.
In addition, with respect to its digestion it should be noted that it was a ruminant animal. Ruminants ingest their food normally and then regurgitate it and chew it again. This is done in order to better ingest the food thanks to the food bolus that is formed in the first ingestion. The word ruminant comes from Latin and literally means “to chew again”.