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Picture of the Day

Researchers study how wolf predation shapes elk antler evolution

What happens when you mix a biologist who studies beetle horns with scientists who spend their time exploring predator-prey dynamics? You get a better understanding of why elk shed their antlers much later than males of any other North American species. National Science Foundation-funded researchers discovered that wolves in Yellowstone National Park preferentially hunted bulls who already had shed their antlers over those who still had them during late winter. The finding suggests that antlers are used for more than just competing for cows -- that they help deter predators, too -- which could help explain why bulls shed their antlers long after the rut. The study highlights an evolutionary Catch-22: Weapons come with both benefits and costs. Bulls who drop their antlers early may grow relatively larger antlers in the upcoming year, winning more cows, but they're also at greater risk to become dinner first.

Visit Website | Image credit: National Park Service