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Megaloceros

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Megaloceros giganteus
MegalocerosInfobox
Name Megaloceros giganteus
Order Artiodactyla
Family Cervidae
Class Mammalia
Name Translation 'Great' or 'Big' Horn
Period Late Pliocene-Late Pleistocene epochs of the Cenozoic Era
Location North America, Europe
Diet Herbivorous
Length 3 metres (10 feet) long and 2 metres (6 feet) at the withers

The deer of the genus Megaloceros were found throughout Eurasia from the late Pliocene to the Late Pleistocene, and were important herbivores during the Ice Ages. The largest species, M. giganteus, vernacularly known as the "Irish Elk" or "Giant elk", is also the best known.

Most members of the genus were extremely large animals that favored meadows or open woodlands, with most species averaging slightly below 2 meters at the withers. Many of the Mediterranean species, on the other hand, were textbook examples of insular dwarfism, such as the Sardinian (and Corsican; the two were joined for much of the Pleistocene) M. cazioti, which was barely 1 meter tall. The various species of the Cretan genus Candiacervus - the smallest of which, C. rhopalophorus was just 65 centimeters high at the shoulder - are sometimes included in Megaloceros as a subgenus.

As the name "Irish Elk" implies, the larger species were somewhat similar in general habitus to the European Elk (Moose) and the American Elk. However, this has by now been shown to be a consequence of their increased size. The actual relationships are with the fallow deer genus Dama, and the genus was part of a Late Neogene Eurasian radiation of fallow deer relatives of which today only 2 taxa remain.(Lister et al. 2005, Hughes et al. 2006)

While most studies place all species in Megaloceros, sometimes the genus is considered more restricted in scope. In the most extreme case, it might be limited to M. antecedens and M. giganteus, the others being separated in Praemegaceros (European lineage) and Sinomegaceros (East Asian lineage). While the latter is probably valid as a subgenus, the former taxon requires more research as to its relationship with Megaloceros sensu stricto and Candiacervus in particular.

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