Antlers to Art

The Lifecycle of an Antler

- by Rob Cochrane

Antlered animals most familiar to people in North America include moose, elk, caribou and white-tailed deer.

Each year, normally between mid December and the end of January, depending on location and weather conditions, these animals “shed” their antlers, with new antler growth being put on hold until mid to late April. The shed antlers become a high calcium feast for forest rodents and will eventually decompose into the ground providing nutrients to the surrounding soil.

“Antler Buds” begin to grow again from the healed antler “pedicles” (the area where antlers are attached to the skull). Antler growth, in so far as size of antler will depend on age, genetics, the condition of the animal and food availablility of the bull or buck.

The growth of the antler is truly an amazing thing to watch

Once started, antlers grow rapidly. Antler growth is completed roughly 150 days after it begins. During this growing period the antler is covered and protected (to a degree) by a fuzzy layer of fine soft hair known as velvet. The velvet is well supplied with a dense network of blood vessels. It is sensitive and can be easily damaged. The growth of the antler is truly an amazing thing to watch. If lucky enough, as I have been, you can watch and track the rapid growth of the antler over the course of the summer. Antlers are recognized by science as the fastest growing tissue within the animal kingdom.

When the growth cycle is complete, the blood stops flowing to the velvet and the velvet begins to dry. This causes some aggravation to the bulls/bucks and they begin to “rake” small bushes and shrubs to rid themselves of the velvet covering. In some instances the owners of these antlers have been seen eating the velvet covering, a very healthy protien snack.

Withing a few short days the bull/buck is sporting a hardened, velvet free crown of bone again. This “lifecycle” is carried out each and every year, and to me, is one of the most amazing things to happen in nature.

I hope my artwork does justice to these “recycled” wonders of nature.