Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pennsylvania Elk: The Velvet Is Shed

This is a period of change in Pennsylvania's elk country as the bulls shed their velvet.  Antlers are shed in late winter and early spring with new antler growth beginning almost immediately. The new antlers are covered with "velvet" which is composed of a soft velvety feeling tissue, which contains a network of blood vessels that carry nourishment to the developing antlers.  The antlers reach their full size during July and by early August the velvet begins to dry and crack and eventually peel away, exposing the hard bone like antlers that the animal will carry throughout the autumn and winter.

Some of the bulls begin the velvet shedding process in early to mid-August, while others complete it later in the month.  It is fairly safe to say that almost all but a few of the spikes have lost the velvet by the beginning of September.

At first the velvet cracks and bloody spots appear.  The animals may feel an itching sensation as it is common to see them  rubbing their antlers against trees and saplings at this time.

Cracks In The Velvet And Spots Of Blood Indicate Velvet Will Be Shed Soon:"Fred" Bull 36 Aug. 14, 2007

Once the process begins it is usually completed in a day or so.  When the velvet is completely ready to be shed, the animals hasten the process along by aggressively horning trees, saplings, and the ground.
At this point it is common to see the velvet hanging from the antlers in long loose strips.

Strips Of Velvet Hanging From Antlers: August 18, 2008

Bulls With Shedding Completed: August 16, 2007
It is reasonably safe to say that last week and this coming week is the best period to witness this exciting event in the life cycle of the elk and that visitors to the elk range can expect to encounter bulls in various stages of the process during the coming week.

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Originally posted by Willard Hill at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer