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Temporal range: late Early Pleistocene to Middle Holocene
~1.2–0.0077 Ma
Skeleton of Megaloceros giganteus
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Tribe: Cervini
Genus: Megaloceros
Brookes, 1828
  • Megaceros (Owen, 1844)

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 Pleistocene to the early Holocene. The type and only undisputed member of the genus, Megaloceros giganteus, vernacularly known as the "Irish elk" or "giant deer", is also the best known. Fallow deer are thought to be their closest living relatives.[1][2][3] Megaloceros is thought to be closely related to the East Asian genus Sinomegaceros, as well as possibly other extinct genera of "giant deer".

Skeleton of Megaloceros giganteus


Other than the type species Megaloceros giganteus, the composition of the genus is contested.[4][5][6] While considered to be part of the genus Megaloceros by many authors,[7] M. savini and related taxa (novocarthaginiensis and matritensis) are split into the separate genus Praedama by some scholars.[4][5][8]

Megaloceros has often been placed in the tribe Megacerini, alongside other "giant deer" genera like Sinomegaceros and Praemegaceros, though the taxonomy regarding giant deer as whole is uncertain and contested.[4] A close relationship with Sinomegaceros has been supported by mitochondrial DNA, which found that the mitochondrial sequences of M. giganteus are nested within those of Sinomegaceros, suggesting that the two lineages interbred with each other after the initial split between them, with all mitochondrial genomes of Sinomegaceros more closely related to those of M. giganteus than to their closest living relative Dama.[9]

Relationships of Megaloceros mitochondrial genomes, after Xiao et al. 2023.[9]



Sinomegaceros pachyosteus (China)

Megaloceros giganteus (Russia, Belgium)

Sinomegaceros ordosianus (China, Russia)

Sinomegaceros pachyosteus (China)

Megaloceros giganteus (Europe, Russia)


Species ordered from oldest to youngest:

M. novocarthaginiensis
Described from the latest Early Pleistocene 0.9-0.8 Ma of Cueva Victoria in Spain. Known from antlers, teeth and postcranial material. Related and possibly ancestral to M. savini[6]
M. savini
Middle Pleistocene European species[4], with a temporal range spanning approximately 750-450,000 years ago,[7] slightly larger than a caribou/reindeer, 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. Has been suggested to comprise the separate genus Praedama.
It is suggested to have been a mixed feeder or grazer.[10]
M. matritensis[7]
Mid-Pleistocene species, lived around 300-400 ka near present-day Madrid, Spain, being contemporary with M. giganteus. The species had enlarged premolars, very thick molar enamel, and a low mandibular condyle. The species itself formed part of the diet of people which lived in the area. M. matritensis fossils are found associated to stone tools of late Acheulean and early Mousterian type. The species is thought to be descended from M. savini
M. giganteus
Largest, best known, and among the last species of the genus that stands about 2 m (6.6 ft) at the shoulders. Lived throughout Eurasia, from Ireland to Siberia during the late Middle Pleistocene to early Holocene.

Megaceroides algericus from the Late Pleistocene to Holocene of North Africa has been considered to be closely related and possibly derived from Megaloceros by some authors.[11]

"M". stravpolensis from the Early Pleistocene of Southwestern Russia[12] has been subsequently suggested to belong to Arvernoceros.[5][7]


  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. ^ Gonzalez, S., Kitchener, A. C. & Lister, A. M. 2000. Survival of the Irish elk into the Holocene. Nature 405, 753-754.
  4. ^ a b c d Vislobokova, I. A. (December 2013). "Morphology, taxonomy, and phylogeny of megacerines (Megacerini, Cervidae, Artiodactyla)". Paleontological Journal. 47 (8): 833–950. doi:10.1134/S0031030113080017. ISSN 0031-0301.
  5. ^ a b c Croitor, Roman (2018). Plio-Pleistocene deer of Western Palearctic : taxonomy, systematics, phylogeny. pp. 72 (stavropolensis) 93–94 (Praedama). ISBN 978-9975-66-609-1. OCLC 1057238213.
  6. ^ a b Made, J. van der (2015). "The latest Early Pleistocene giant deer Megaloceros novocarthaginiensis n. sp. and the fallow deer "Dama df. vallonnetensis" from Cueva Victoria (Murcia, Spain)". Mastia. 11–13: 269–323. S2CID 44675184.
  7. ^ a b c d Van der Made, Jan (2019). "The dwarfed 'giant deer' Megaloceros matritensis n.sp. from the Middle Pleistocene of Madrid - A descendant of M. savini and contemporary to M. giganteus". Quaternary International. 520: 110–139. Bibcode:2019QuInt.520..110V. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2018.06.006. S2CID 133792579. Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  8. ^ Athanassiou, Athanassios (2022), Vlachos, Evangelos (ed.), "The Fossil Record of Continental Fossil Deer (Mammalia: Artiodactyla: Cervidae) in Greece", Fossil Vertebrates of Greece Vol. 2, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 205–247, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-68442-6_6, ISBN 978-3-030-68441-9, retrieved 2023-11-15
  9. ^ a b Xiao, Bo; Rey-lglesia, Alba; Yuan, Junxia; Hu, Jiaming; Song, Shiwen; Hou, Yamei; Chen, Xi; Germonpré, Mietje; Bao, Lei; Wang, Siren; Taogetongqimuge; Valentinovna, Lbova Liudmila; Lister, Adrian M.; Lai, Xulong; Sheng, Guilian (November 2023). "Relationships of Late Pleistocene Giant Deer as Revealed by Sinomegaceros Mitogenomes from East Asia". iScience: 108406. doi:10.1016/j.isci.2023.108406. PMC 10690636.
  10. ^ Strani, Flavia; DeMiguel, Daniel; Alba, David M.; Moyà-Solà, Salvador; Bellucci, Luca; Sardella, Raffaele; Madurell-Malapeira, Joan (April 2019). "The effects of the "0.9 Ma event" on the Mediterranean ecosystems during the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition as revealed by dental wear patterns of fossil ungulates". Quaternary Science Reviews. 210: 80–89. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.02.027.
  11. ^ Croitor, Roman (July–September 2016). "Systematical position and paleoecology of the endemic deer Megaceroides algericus Lydekker, 1890 (Cervidae, Mammalia) from the late Pleistocene-early Holocene of North Africa". Geobios. 49 (4): 265–283. doi:10.1016/j.geobios.2016.05.002.
  12. ^ Titov, V. V.; Shvyreva, A. K. (January 2016). "Deer of the genus Megaloceros (Mammalia, Cervidae) from the Early Pleistocene of Ciscaucasia". Paleontological Journal. 50 (1): 87–95. doi:10.1134/S0031030116010111. ISSN 0031-0301. S2CID 131336166.

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): 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. PMID 16556506.
  • 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): 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 (7069): 850–853. Bibcode:2005Natur.438..850L. doi:10.1038/nature04134. PMID 16148942. S2CID 4396326.