They fight to compete for females, particularly those with similarly sized antlers. How would an elk know that its antlers are similar in size to another elk's if they can't see how long their own antlers are?

"The stag with the biggest antlers asserts dominance by showing them off and occasionally fighting with them."

Source: Natural Curiosities Ep. 4

  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think they can't see how long their antlers are? I don't know about elk specifically, but most grazers have a very wide visual field. Also, if they didn't somehow have an idea of their width, they would have trouble going throught the forest: picture one trying to run between two trees that are closer together than the width of the elk's antlers :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 6 '17 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ For comparison humans can't see what hat they're wearing. Elk have a wider field of vision but I doubt they have a field of vision tall enough to actually see their antlers, which extend very much behind their heads (example: elknetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bull_elk.jpg). To navigate through the woods I imagine they have a kinesthetic awareness and don't stray much beyond that. But to compare antler sizes requires some visual acuity -- my reasoning with this is that I wonder if confidence rather than perfect accuracy might play a role in this form of competition. $\endgroup$ – Jamie Jun 6 '17 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they make sense by weight. $\endgroup$ – JM97 Jun 6 '17 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think you anthropomorphise in your question going by how you have worded it. It is an ongoing debate but so far only a limited number of animals have been shown to have a sense of self-awareness. Without self-awareness and a notion for length, the question of "who's got the longest" becomes irrelevant. It probably just so happens that the biggest animal (which also happens to have the biggest antlers) is a little stronger and thus asserts more dominance. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Jun 6 '17 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Jamie: Without some data on the elk's visual field (and I couldn't find any in a quick search), we're both just guessing. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 6 '17 at 19:15

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