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Elk Anatomy-Older Participants (PEEC)

TopicLaboratory and Hands-on Activities - Arts and Crafts
Wildlife - Adaptations
Wildlife - Mammals
The instructor will use a large floor puzzle to teach about the basic anatomy of elk and how the elk’s anatomy keeps it safe from predators
Recommended SettingIndoor classroom
LocationPonca Elk Education Center, Ponca, AR

Education Program Coordinator, 870-861-2432

Duration30 - 45 minutes
Suggested Number of ParticipantsUp to 25
  • Construct a floor puzzle that reinforces the lesson.
  • Demonstrate basic understanding of elk anatomy and how it provides safety against predators.
Key Terms*





Giant floor puzzle of an elk



Certain body parts of an elk are important for its survival.


  1. Ask participants to list what animals prey on elk.
  2. List them and share the names of any not mentioned. The list could include humans, bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves (in states where there are wolves).
  3. Explain that elk, like all prey animals, are vulnerable to predators, especially when they are newborn calves or weakened by an illness or disease.
  4. Share the following information:
    • When a calf is born, it is only 35 pounds, slow to get on its feet and can’t run fast or long. This makes it a target for predators.
    • There are several ways the calf is protected from predators. First, its coloration provides camouflage so it can hide in tall grass. Also, it does not have an odor, which would be detected by a predator. Finally, the mother cleans away all the birth material and calf waste. She grazes away from the hidden calf and returns only to nurse a few times a day.
    • If a predator approaches, the mother will attack or lead the animal away from the calf.
  5. Show the puzzle pieces and ask them to identify the parts. As they point out each section of the elk, explain how that part of the animal helps to avoid predation.
  6. Share the following as they put the puzzle together. (Note: As the lesson progresses, participants should predict how the shape, size and anatomy will help the animal before giving them the information.)
    • Nose – Elk have a keen sense of smell to detect danger and avoid predators.
    • Eyes – The eyes are on the sides of the head, helping them to see in almost every direction and making it possible to detect even the slightest movements of predators.
    • Ears – The ears are large and dish-shaped and catch a lot of sound. (Have participants cup their hands behind their ears to demonstrate.) The ears also can rotate forward and backward, allowing for better sound detection from different directions.
    • Neck – The neck is long and allows the elk to lift its head high to spot potential danger.
    • Legs – The long, lean muscles are designed to run swiftly in long graceful strides, jump fences and climb steep slopes.
    • Toes – Elk have four toes with the two outer toes on the back called dew claws. The larger two toes are what they walk on and form a hoof covered by a tough, thick toenail. By staying on their tiptoes, elk can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and remain surefooted on uneven ground.
    • Stomach – The stomach is very important for the survival of the elk. Elk must eat a large amount quickly to avoid being hunted by predators. The elk stomach has four chambers, which allow them to consume a lot quickly and hide to relax and chew its cud slowly. The next three chambers digest the food.
  7. After the puzzle is assembled, review the parts and ask what they remember about them. Discuss the following behaviors, which also are essential for the herd’s safety.
    • Elk feed together in a “selfish herd.” The herd is labeled selfish because, while they are with others, they are mainly concerned with their own safety. Staying in a large herd provides an advantage for the elk. A lone elk would be an easy target, but as part of a large herd, it is less likely to become the focus of a predator.
    • Elk use sound to alarm the herd of danger. They also communicate by spreading out in a thick brush and making slight crackling noises as they walk. When elk hear this sound, they know there are elk nearby and not a predator. Body stance is another tool that elk use to communicate danger. An alarmed stance is when the head is held high, the body is standing up straight and tall and leaning slightly forward, ears are cocked forward or to the side, the eyes are wide open and the nostrils are flared.

If time allows, play a game of Pictionary. In the game, they will choose a part of the body to draw. The team that guesses the part and can tell how that part keeps the elk safe wins a point. Continue until all the parts and behaviors have been reviewed.

  • Elks’ eyes are on the sides of the head. How does this keep them safe from predators?
  • What does “selfish herd” mean?
  • How many chambers does an elk’s stomach have? How does this keep the elk safe?

Anatomy – the physical structure of an animal, plant, or other organism, or of any of its parts


Predator – an animal that hunts and kills other animals usually for food