Wondering if it hurts moose when they shed velvet? Despite its disquieting look, no, it does not hurt moose or any other member of the deer family to shed their velvet. It is thought that it itches, which encourages the animal to rub the velvet off on trees and other surfaces.
Moose are the biggest members of the deer family, which means that, unlike other horned animals, they shed their antlers every year. When this happens, the skin on the surface of the antlers, known as velvet, sheds off in long strips of skin. It may look like a horror movie, but does it hurt moose to shed velvet?
To understand why moose and other deer shed their antlers, we need to understand a little more about antlers – the how’s and why’s of their existence.
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Why Are Antlers Grown?
To start, we need to understand why deer and moose grow antlers, and more specifically, how they differ from horns.
Many animals grow horns on their heads, such as:
But the reasons why they grow horns on their heads are actually completely different from why deer grow antlers. The main reason all those animals before grow horns is as weapons, to defend themselves from predation and fighting others.
Now, the difference between that and antlers is that whilst horns are used as a defense against predators and therefore would need to be present all year, the main use of antlers is to attract mates. The bigger and more impressive the antlers a male grows, the more likely he is to attract a female.
Male moose and other members of the deer family may headbutt each other in a show of dominance during mating season, but when threatened, deer of all kinds are known to kick with their front hooves instead of rearing up.
Because their primary function is to attract a mate, antlers are therefore not needed during any time other than the mating season, and for moose, it means that around December, they begin to shed their antlers to conserve energy over the winter months.
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How Are Moose Antlers Grown?
We are able to understand more about how antlers are shed if we understand how they are created – and especially how they are different from regular horns.
Horns are primarily grown from bone, with a thin layer of keratin over the top of it – which is the same material found in human hair and nails. They are also attached to the animal’s skull, making them permanent.
Antlers, however, are much different; they are made from a multitude of different components including:
- Fibrous tissues
- Blood Vessels
They are essentially a new extension of the body, but not attached to the skull, which means that they are capable of being shed each year.
How the antler works are that the bone grows within the skin of a moose’s head. The skin has a myriad of short, soft hairs, which is why it’s become known as ‘velvet’. This begins around April for moose and the velvet remains on their antlers for months.
Antlers are grown based on testosterone, and when it surges around mating season in September, then the velvet sheds and the bone hardens. Each year, the antlers grow larger and more impressive until bulls are at their prime at 10 years old, after which their antlers grow smaller after that.
They can weigh as much as 60 pounds at their biggest, which explains why they shed it every year, as that is a lot of energy and weight to keep over the winter. Where moose can live, in the far North of North America, Asia, and Europe, food can be hard to find during the winter months.
Why Is It Not Painful For Moose To Shed Velvet?
Something people might wonder is if the antler is filled with things that might hurt when rubbed, like
- Blood vessels
- And skin
Then why does it not hurt moose to shed it?
The truth is that at first, it does seem to; members of the deer family have been spotted being incredibly careful with their antlers during spring when the bones are still growing underneath the skin. It has been seen that moose will avoid low-hanging branches and bumping their antlers into things, and it has been seen that during the velvet stage if the antlers are bumped, they will bleed.
Having such a rich blood supply means that antlers are some of the fastest-growing tissues, with experts noting up to eight inches of growth in around nine days.
However, once the antlers have reached their full size, the blood supply stops, the nerves stop responding the same way, the bones of the antlers harden and the velvet then appears to become itchy, which encourages the deer to rub the velvet off.
Then, at the beginning of December, the antlers are broken down by special cells called osteoclasts, which break down the cells of bone that attach the antler to the skull and then fall off during the winter. A very similar sounding cell called osteoblasts builds them up again next spring.
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Overall, it is not painful for moose to shed their velvet because of the internal structure of antlers. Antlers are made of growing bone inside nourishing skin, which is known as velvet due to its furry texture. Antlers grow atop the skull rather than from it, like horns, which allows it to be shed.
During the spring, these antlers grow and harden, and the skin covering the antlers loses most of its sensitivity and becomes itchy. Once that happens, the moose then rubs different objects to scrape the velvet off harmlessly.