Seeing a deer running across the road with bright red antlers is startling.
That happened to me last month. It took a minute to realize the deer's antlers weren't spray painted. Instead, it was shedding what’s called velvet.
Starting each spring, male deer, elk and moose begin growing new antlers. The antlers are surrounded by soft tissue filled with blood to nourish the bones as they grow. The antlers look fuzzy and funny.
During the summer the blood flow to the velvet is slowly cut off. By late summer, the velvet will dry up and begin to fall off. Sometimes the animal will help scrape it off on trees, branches and brush.
By fall, the male has a new set of antlers which are important for the mating season. The bony growths show females of their species how old and healthy the males are. To other males who will compete to mate, the antlers can be a warning. A male with bigger antlers may be able to scare off his rival who has smaller antlers.
If they do get into a fight, a bigger set of antlers can also help determine who wins. The males can be pretty mean in their attacks, trying to stab each other in the side or pushing each other around with their antlers locked together, head to head.
Some males that are injured may not lose the velvet on their antlers. And every now and then a female deer grows antlers.
In the winter, the antlers of deer, elk and moose will fall off, sometimes right next to each other. Many people like to go out in the spring and search for them. Some people will pay for antlers so they can make chairs, lights and even handles for knives and forks.
— Brett French, firstname.lastname@example.org