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Elk Communication – Older Participants (PEEC)

TopicWildlife - Mammals
This lesson teaches different stances/postures used by elk to communicate with other elk in the herd.
Recommended SettingIndoor classroom
LocationPonca Elk Education Center, Ponca, AR

Education Program Coordinator, 870-861-2432


Duration30 - 40 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants10 - 25
  • Determine which stance matches what the elk is communicating.
  • Learn the postures elk use to communicate with the herd.
  • Demonstrate the posture/communication used by elk.
Key Terms*

Alarmed stance

Courtship stance

Fighting stance

Herding stance

Submissive stance

Threatening stance


Elk posture explanation cards (one set per group of five)

Elk posture silhouette cards (one set per group of five)

Elk posture title cards (one set per group of five)



Elk, like other animals, communicate with one another. They communicate through noise and body postures.

  1. Split the participants into groups of five.
  2. Give each group one set of each of the cards.
  3. Explain that elk, like other animals (including humans), communicate with one another using noise and body postures.
  4. Tell participants they are going to be elk communication experts for the class and that their first task is to figure out which posture goes with which title and explanation card.
  5. Explain they have five minutes to read through the information, look at the cards and titles and will have one minute to group them accordingly. Tell them they need to use all of the five minutes to read, look and discuss before they put the cards together.
  6. Call time after five minutes, and then let them group the cards correctly.
  7. After a minute, check the groups’ progress to see which group had the most correct places.
  8. After the participants have tried to figure the answers, go over each silhouette, explaining the following about each:
    • Submissive posture – head and neck lowered, nose stretched out and ears folded back, sometimes while crouching down. Cows use this posture when a bull is courting or herding them around. Small bulls will also act submissive to avoid a costly fight with a larger bull.
    • Fighting posture – standing on hind legs and flailing front hooves with ears laid back. Both bulls and cows may assume this posture when fighting over the best food, bedding areas and other scarce resources.
    • Threatening posture – ears laid back, nostrils flared, upper lip curled, head and neck upright. These signs mean an elk may rise up on its back legs and fight. Cows, calves and bulls without antlers threaten each other this way when they compete for food.
    • Herding posture – ears laid back, antlers tilted back, neck stretched out low, nose tipped up and eyes open wide. A bull will use this posture to let stray cows know they should stick with the group or “harem,” or he might chase after them. Sometimes the bull will yelp and bugle while in this posture.
    • Courtship posture – antlers and head held high and slightly forward, tongue sticking out. This is how a bull approaches a cow when trying to attract her during the mating season or rut. Using this posture, an older bull will gently move toward the cow, displaying his antlers to impress while trying not to threaten her.
    • Alarmed posture – head held high, body standing straight and tall, leaning slightly forward, ears cocked forward or to the side, eyes wide open and nostrils flared. An alarmed elk moves stiffly but is ready to take off in a flash if there is truly danger in the area. Sometimes elk will “bark” sharply when nervous to warn others in the herd. In the early summer, cow elk use the alarm posture and bark to tell their newborn calves to dive for cover.

Play a game of charades where the participants act out a posture and the rest of the class guesses what they are communicating to the “herd.”

  • Why does the bull elk use the herding posture?
  • Why do elk cows and calves threaten each other?
  • When does an elk cow use the submissive posture?



Alarmed stance (elk) – stance in which the head is held high, the body is straight and tall, leaning slightly forward, the ears are cocked forward or to the side, the eyes are wide open and the nostrils are flared


Courtship stance (elk) – stance in which the antlers and head are held high and slightly forward with tongue sticking out


Fighting stance (elk) – stance in which the elk is standing on the hind legs and flailing the front hooves with ears laid back


Herding stance (elk) – stance in which the elk’s ears are laid back, the antlers are tilted back, the neck is stretched out low, the nose is tipped up and the eyes are open wide


Submissive stance (elk) – stance in which the head and neck are lowered, the nose is stretched out and the ears are folded back; sometimes occurs while the elk is crouching down


Threatening stance (elk) – stance in which the elk’s ears are laid back, the nostrils are flared, the upper lip is curled back and the head and neck are upright