This is part five in my Majestic Elk of Boxley Valley: A Photography Series. Today I’m sharing a couple images of a cow elk licking her nose. I believe elk do this for the same reason as whitetail deer – to keep their nose moist for better scenting ability.

Cow Licks Nose for Better Smelling

Cow Licks Nose for Better Smelling

A wet nose allows more scent molecules to stick to it compared to a dry one. Since elk have an incredible sense of smell, they rely on their moist nose to pick up subtle scents in their environment. A nose licking essentially maximizes their ability to detect smells.

Elk use their nose to identify predators, food sources, and other elk. Their sense of smell and a wet nose help warn them of lurking dangers like bears. It also aids in finding tasty plants, supplements, and salt licks.

Young calf elk likely also lick their noses to locate their mothers, who each have a unique scent signature.

Cow Elk Wets Nose to Boost Smelling

Cow Elk Wets Nose to Boost Smelling

This particular cow elk I photographed was spending the day grazing in a small pasture with other females. This was the same area where I observed dominant bull elk behavior in parts three and four of this series. The cow seemed relaxed, methodically licking her nose between munches of grass.

Watching wildlife engage in natural behaviors offers glimpses into aspects we often overlook. I’m continually fascinated to learn about the purposes behind innate mannerisms.  I’m looking forward to part six, where I’ll share photos of an elk calf in this Ozark mountain paradise.

Steve Creek, Wildlife Photographer

Image Information (First Image):

  • Date: 10/9/23
  • Time: 8:28 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 6400
  • Aperture: 7.1
  • Shutter: 1/800
  • Exp. Comp.: +0.7
  • Lens (mm): 343
  • Program: Manual

My next post in this series: Images of a lone elk calf venturing out from the herd: Lone Elk Calf Ventures Out in Boxley Valley