Do Elk Have Ivory Teeth?

By Mike Crystal; Updated April 24, 2017
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The elk or wapiti, which has the taxonomic name Cervus elaphus, once ranged all over the North American continent. Found today chiefly in the western United States, elk possess the rare distinction of having both antlers and ivory canine teeth, believed to have been bona fide tusks many thousands of years ago during the animal's evolution.

Characteristics of the Teeth

Among North American animals, only walruses and elk have ivory teeth. In walruses these are tusks, but in elk they are anatomically similar to the remaining teeth. These ivories, also called "buglers" or "whistlers," rest in the maxilla, or upper jaw, on each side of the incisors, or front teeth. In prehistoric times, before the elk wandered eastward across the Bering land bridge into what is now Alaska, these ivory teeth were perhaps 6 to 8 inches long.

About the Author

Michael Crystal earned a Bachelor of Science in biology at Case Western Reserve University, where he was a varsity distance runner, and is a USA Track and Field-certified coach. Formerly the editor of his running club's newsletter, he has been published in "Trail Runner Magazine" and "Men's Health." He is pursuing a medical degree.