Lose an Antler?

I guess I had never heard the full explanation as to why deer and moose lose their antlers. In case you were wondering, here’s why.

DNR QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Q: It is not uncommon to find antlers lying on the forest floor in the spring. Why do buck deer, bull moose and other antlered species shed their antlers?

A: Annual cycles in deer antlers are related to the changing seasons. Deer have adapted their physiology and behavior to respond to seasonal changes, including antler growth and shedding. The environmental cue that regulates antler growth is the amount of day length; the physiological cue is the hormone testosterone. Simply put, the changing day lengths are sensed by the eyes, which send this message via the optic nerve to the pineal gland located at the base of the brain. The declining day length in late fall and early winter causes a decrease in testosterone, which results in antler shedding. The actual process of antler shedding involves the formation of a thin layer of tissue destruction that forms between the antler and the pedicle, called the abscission layer. The degeneration of the bone-to-bone bond between the antler and the pedicle is considered to be the fastest deterioration of living tissue known in the animal kingdom.

- Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor

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