It seems a shame that big bucks drop their antlers, but it’s part of the natural cycle.
QUESTION: I found a shed antler in late December, but I also have pictures of bucks that still had antlers in late January. What makes some bucks shed earlier or later than others? – Shawn L.
ANSWER: Antlers are a remarkable and mysterious natural phenomenon. Bucks spend considerable resources to grow a set, and it might seem wasteful that they shed them and grow a new set each year. We still don’t know their exact purpose, but recent studies suggest they play a role in breeding, and that does may show some preference for bucks with larger antlers. It makes sense since large antlers demonstrate the health and vigor of the individual.
After the breeding season, they serve no purpose. In cold climates they can even act as conductors, drawing heat away from the body. If antlers were more permanent, they’d likely become damaged to the point where their value was diminished or even dangerous to other bucks. The simple solution is to shed them and start growing a new set for the ensuing breeding season.
Several factors influence when bucks shed their antlers. One, as alluded to above, is health. Bucks whose health has been compromised by illness, injury or even old age may shed sooner. Some injuries result in bucks retaining their antlers longer, and even indefinitely.
Moisture could be a factor, too, with bucks shedding earlier in drought conditions. I’m sure there are other factors as well. — Recent Ask the Biologist Question:
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