Antlers, the headgear of deer, moose and elk, are more useful for display than combat. But that does not stop deadly lockups from occurring.
As the days of summer pass, the antlers get longer on moose, elk and other animals in the cervid, or deer, family. The animals spend most of the summer grazing, their head weaponry sheathed in fuzzy velvet. But by the end of September, the antlers will be ready for action as male suitors gather to posture, preen and butt heads — a behavior that some people may have in mind when they use the phrase “locking horns.”
It is not always just a figure of speech. Every now and then, grisly photographs appear on the internet: A buck walking around with the head of another male tangled in its antlers. Three white-tailed deer dead in a stream, antlers twisted in a complicated tangle. Two moose, locked together in death, blocking a ditch.
Beyond the shock value, these stories provide an insight into an odd quirk of evolution: Fierce-looking antlers exist primarily for display. When animals try to use them as weapons, the consequences can be dire.