It's possible the showy antlers of male deer, elk and moose have played a more subtle role in species evolution and survival than first appears.
Deer, elk and moose are all from the same family, but the branch that produced Megaloceros giganteus (aka the Irish Elk) is now extinct. This regal creature sported the most impressive headgear of any known deer.
ILLUSTRATION: KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
The moose is still found across much of northern North America.
Map shows the current range of moose species in North America.
Rutting battles are highly ritualized affairs.
The wapiti, our modern elk, sports dramatic antlers, though less massive than those of the moose.
ROGER AND DONNA AITKENHEAD/ANIMALS ANIMALS
Artist's rendering of the Irish elk. Did that massive rack serve a purely practical purpose?
C.R KNIGHT COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF LIBRARY SERVICES/AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY