Most members of the genus were extremely large animals that favoured meadows or open woodlands. They are the most cursorial deer known, with most species averaging slightly below 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) at the withers. The various species of the Cretan genus Candiacervus – the smallest of which, C. rhopalophorus was just 65 cm (26 in) high at the shoulder – are sometimes included in Megaloceros as a subgenus.
Despite its name, the Irish elk was neither restricted to Ireland nor closely related to either species commonly referred to as elk (Alces alces in British English and other European languages; Cervus canadensis in North American English) but instead is closely related to the fallow deer genus Dama. 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).
Although sometimes synonymized with Megaloceros, Praemegaceros and Megaceroides are apparently generically distinct.
Species in chronological sequence
Early Pleistocene species from Southwestern Russia.
Early to Mid-Pleistocene species in the ShaanxiLoess of China.
Very similar to M. giganteus, to the point where it is often regarded as a paleosubspecies of the latter. The antlers were more compact, and the tines near the base large and palmate. Lived in Mid-Pleistocene Germany.
Mid-Pleistocene China and Japan. Had long, curved antlers.
Mid-Pleistocene species, slightly larger than a caribou, first fossils found near Sainte Savine, France and near Soria, Spain. Its antlers were straight, with thorn-like prongs. The lowermost prongs near the base were palmate.
Mid-Pleistocene species, lived around 300-400 ka near present-day Madrid, Spain, being contemporary with M. giganteus. The species had enlarged premolars, very thick molar enamel, and a low mandibular condyle. The species itself formed part of the diet of people which lived in the area. M. matritensis fossils are found associated to stone tools of late Acheulean and early Mousterian type.
^Lister, A. M., Edwards, C. J., Nock, D. A. W., Bunce, M., van Pijlen, I. A., Bradley, D. G., Thomas, M. G. & Barnes, I. 2005. The phylogenetic position of the ‘giant deer’ Megaloceros giganteus. Nature 438, 850-853.
^Mennecart, B., deMiguel, D., Bibi, F., Rössner, G. E., Métais, G., Neenan, J. M., Wang, S., Schulz, G., Müller, B. & Costeur, L. 2017. Bony labyrinth morphology clarifies the origin and evolution of deer. Scientific Reports 7: 13176.
^Gonzalez, S., Kitchener, A. C. & Lister, A. M. 2000. Survival of the Irish elk into the Holocene. Nature 405, 753-754.
^Geist, V. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury.
^CROITOR, R., 2006. Taxonomy and systematics of large-sized deer of the genus Praemegaceros Portis, 1920 (Cervidae, Mammalia). In: R. D. Kahlke, L. C. Maul, P. P. A. Mazza (Eds.): Late Neogene and Quaternary biodiversity and evolution: Regional developments and interregional correlations. Volume I. Courrier Forsch.-Institut Senckenberg, 256, 91-116.
Lister, A.M. (1987): Megaceros or Megaloceros? The nomenclature of the giant deer. Quaternary Newsletter52: 14–16.
Lister, A.M.; Edwards, C.J.; Nock, D.A.; Bunce, M.; van Pijlen, I.A.; Bradley, D.G.; Thomas, M.G. & Barnes, I. (2005): Lister, A. M.; Edwards, C. J.; Nock, D. A. W.; Bunce, M.; Van Pijlen, I. A.; Bradley, D. G.; Thomas, M. G.; Barnes, I. (2005). "The phylogenetic position of the 'giant deer' Megaloceros giganteus". Nature. 438 (7069): 850–853. doi:10.1038/nature04134. PMID16148942.