UPDATE: several readers provided photos of the male and female; the best is from Sigmund, who pointed me to the flanking dimorphic elks in the geology building of his own university, Trinity College Dublin. Look at that antler dimorphism! On a related note, the renowned Irish paleontologist Sir Arthur (Artie) O’Dactyl has just described an enormously large living mollusc which, in honor of this cervid, he’s named the “Irish whelk.”
And chrismadden.co.uk offers yet another theory for why the Irish Elk went extinct:
I have been searching for a photo of a skeleton of a female Irish Elk, but every photo I can find depicts the remains of males, who of course had the largest antlers of any deer that ever lived (90 pounds of antlers on a five-pound skull, and the males had to regrow their antlers each year!). The species is, of course, extinct. I’d like to see the sexual dimorphism, though, especially because a sophisticated theologian, Ian Barbour, has used the Elk as an example of a purely detrimental evolutionary change that contravenes neo-Darwinian theory. Barbour is apparently unaware of sexual selection and sexual dimorphism. It’s ironic that although sophisticated theologians are always going after biologists for not knowing theology very well, these same theologians repeatedly get their biology wrong.
I know that the species (Megaloceros giganteus) was sexually dimorphic, but have been unable to find photographic documentation. Readers who have access to photos of female skeletons: send me one. Thanks. Here’s a male:
[Update: “Horns” has been corrected to antlers. Antlers grow each year as bony outgrowths covered by a thin skin (called velvet), which eventually is rubbed off by the deer to form the mature antler. Horns are not shed annually, have a bony core, and usually have a keratinous covering (e.g. cattle, sheep, antelope), but may have a skin covering (e.g. giraffes). Thanks to all who noticed!]