by Matthew Cobb
Sophie Scott’s mystery mammal she spotted in a Finnish birch forest was, as many either saw or guessed, an elk, which was hiding behind a tree in the background of her photo. Elk is another name for moose (and vice versa) – their Latin name is Alces alces, and they are the largest extant member of the deer family.
They are not the same species or even genus as caribou/reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), which are also large deer, but which do not have the distinctive palmate antlers of the moose/elk.
The most famous elk is the extinct Giant Irish Elk, which used to roam across much of northern Europe before disappearing as the ice retreated and our ancestors moved north to hunt. Other explanations of their extinction are available (I know, we posted this a couple of years back):
We are lucky enough to have an Irish Elk skull and antlers on display in the foyer of the Michael Smith Building where I work at the University of Manchester. This cartoon appears on the explanatory panel along with some more serious scientific data.