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Temporal range: Late Pliocene to Late Pleistocene, 3–0.008 Ma
Megaloceros Species.jpg
Restoration of various Megaloceros and Praemegaceros species
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Genus: Megaloceros


Megaloceros (from Greek: μεγαλος megalos + κερας keras, literally "Great Horn"; see also Lister [1987]) is an extinct genus of deer whose members lived throughout Eurasia from the late Pliocene to the Late Pleistocene and were important herbivores during the Ice Ages. The largest species, Megaloceros giganteus, vernacularly known as the "Irish Elk" or "Giant elk", is also the best known. They are thought to be most closely related to the living Dama deer.[1][2]


Most members of the genus were extremely large animals that favoured meadows or open woodlands - these are the most cursorial known deers[3] -, with most species averaging slightly below 2 metres at the withers. The various species of the Cretan genus Candiacervus – the smallest of which, C. rhopalophorus was just 65 cm high at the shoulder – are sometimes included in Megaloceros as a subgenus.

Despite its name, the Irish Elk was not related to the elk or wapiti but instead is closely related to the fallow deer genus Dama, and the genus was part of a Late Neogene Eurasian radiation of fallow deer relatives of which today only 2 taxa remain.(Lister et al. 2005, Hughes et al. 2006).

Although sometimes synonymized with Megaloceros, Praemegaceros and Megaceroides are apparently generically distinct.[4]

Species in chronological sequence[edit]

M. stavropolensis
Early Pleistocene species from Southwestern Russia.[5]
M. luochuanensis
Early to Mid-Pleistocene species in the Shaanxi Loess of China.
M. antecedens
Very similar to M. giganteus, to the point where it is often regarded as a paleosubspecies of the latter. The antlers were more compact, and the tines near the base large and palmate. Lived in Mid-Pleistocene Germany.
M. pachyosteus
Mid-Pleistocene China and Japan. Had long, curved antlers.
M. savini
Mid-Pleistocene species, slightly larger than a caribou, first fossils found near Sainte Savine, France and near Soria, Spain. Its antlers were straight, with thorn-like prongs. The lowermost prongs near the base were palmate.
M. giganteus
Largest, best known, and among the last species of the genus, about 2 m (6.6 ft) at the shoulders. Lived throughout Eurasia, from Ireland to China during the last Ice Age.


  1. ^ Lister, A. M., Edwards, C. J., Nock, D. A. W., Bunce, M., van Pijlen, I. A., Bradley, D. G., Thomas, M. G. & Barnes, I. 2005. The phylogenetic position of the ‘giant deer’ Megaloceros giganteus. Nature 438, 850-853.
  2. ^ Mennecart, B., deMiguel, D., Bibi, F., Rössner, G. E., Métais, G., Neenan, J. M., Wang, S., Schulz, G., Müller, B. & Costeur, L. 2017. Bony labyrinth morphology clarifies the origin and evolution of deer. Scientific Reports 7: 13176.
  3. ^ Geist, V. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury.
  4. ^ CROITOR, R., 2006. Taxonomy and systematics of large-sized deer of the genus Praemegaceros Portis, 1920 (Cervidae, Mammalia). In: R. D. Kahlke, L. C. Maul, P. P. A. Mazza (Eds.): Late Neogene and Quaternary biodiversity and evolution: Regional developments and interregional correlations. Volume I. Courrier Forsch.-Institut Senckenberg, 256, 91-116.
  5. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Hughes, Sandrine; Hayden, Thomas J.; Douady, Christophe J.; Tougard, Christelle; Germonpré, Mietje; Stuart, Anthony; Lbova, Lyudmila; Carden, Ruth F.; Hänni, Catherine; Say, Ludovic (2006): Molecular phylogeny of the extinct giant deer, Megaloceros giganteus. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40(1): 285–291. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.02.004 PDF fulltext. Supplementary data 1, DOC fulltext Supplementary data 2, DOC fulltext Supplementary data 3, DOC fulltext
  • Lister, A.M. (1987): Megaceros or Megaloceros? The nomenclature of the giant deer. Quaternary Newsletter 52: 14–16.
  • Lister, A.M.; Edwards, C.J.; Nock, D.A.; Bunce, M.; van Pijlen, I.A.; Bradley, D.G.; Thomas, M.G. & Barnes, I. (2005): The phylogenetic position of the 'giant deer' Megaloceros giganteus. Nature PMID 16148942 doi:10.1038/nature04134 PDF fulltext Supplementary information