A rare sighting of a young male elk missing one of its antlers led to it being mistaken for a mythical unicorn on social media.
The elk was captured on a game camera in Petrified Forest National Park late last month during a full moon.
The elk, identified as a yearling male, was missing one of its antlers, leaving just a single beam without any forks or tines. According to park experts, the first set of antlers grown by young male elk are typically single beams like this and referred to as “spikes.” The shedding of antlers usually occurs in late winter or early spring, but elk can sometimes shed antlers early due to sparring, poor nutrition, or other factors impacting testosterone levels.
Elk at Petrified Forest National Park go through a yearly cycle of antler growth through the summer and fall months. Fully grown male elk develop some of the largest antler racks proportional to their body size anywhere in the world. Mature bull elk can weigh over 650 pounds and stand four to five feet tall at the shoulder.
While elk sightings are not common at Petrified Forest National Park, this young bull’s missing antler led to it being dubbed a “unicorn” in social media posts. The arid desert park in northeastern Arizona is better known for its fossils, ancient petroglyphs, colorful mesas and buttes, and sections of the Painted Desert. The unique environment is not typical elk habitat, making this yearling’s brief appearance all the more unusual.
Park officials shared the elk photos on social media last week, quickly garnering attention. While not actually a mythical creature, the elk provided a rare magical moment and highlighted the diversity of wildlife found at Petrified Forest National Park.
Cover photo courtesy of: Petrified Forest National Park