The Mystery Surrounding Antlers
Fans of the TV show Hannibal know the cannibal psychiatrist and gourmet chef—although his ingredients are quite questionable—often uses deer antlers to create macabre crime scenes. Some may think the creators of the show stole the idea from HBO’s True Detective, but that isn’t the case. The original idea stemmed from Stephen King. In his 1979 hit Salem’s Lot, King impaled one of the characters with antlers. They say it takes three repetitions to create a trend, and perhaps there’s some truth to that.
Antlers intrigued me enough to write them into my new novel, CLEAVED.
In preparation, I did extensive research into deer antlers. Specifically, white tail deer, the only breed that live in New Hampshire, where the story takes place. The reason antlers and murder elicit such a strong reaction might be because the deer symbolizes purity, rebirth, and regeneration. By showing the antlers of such a majestic creature next to the darkness of murder it strikes at our fears. Subconsciously we think, if the killer could use an innocent animal in this way, maybe none of us are safe.
It’s precisely this symbolism that sent me down a rabbit hole of research. Or was it a jackrabbit hole? LOL Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Finding a way to incorporate antlers into the MO so it made sense became a much harder task. Deer antlers weren’t enough, though. I needed more. So I included the King of Hearts playing card, women encased in oil drums, birch trees, and nursery rhymes. Sounds crazy, I know, but I promise it all makes sense in the end.
Many mysteries surround antlers.
Why do deer shed their antlers? Why do only males and hermaphrodite deer grow antlers? How do antlers grow faster than any other vertebrae bone on earth?
I share some of the mythology and symbolism in the book, so I won’t share it here. A few interesting facts I didn’t include are…
• Hardened antlers (not in velvet) are made up of 45% protein, 22% calcium, 11% phosphorous, and 1% fat. They also contain magnesium, sodium, aluminum, potassium, copper, manganese, and zinc.
• The chemical composition varies according to location and is affected by other factors, like soil and the amount of rainfall during the antler growth cycle.
• Antlers respond to their environment. Genetics, age, and diet are the three key factors.
• Even though only male deer and moose grow antlers, there are exceptions, like caribou, elk, and reindeer. Although, with the exception of reindeer, they’re then called “horns”.
• Why do female reindeer grow antlers when their southern cousins do not?
Here’s a tidbit for speculative fans. The now-extinct Irish Elk, known as the Giant Deer Meglasaurus Gigantus, lived until 5,000 B.C. Analysis of its bone and teeth from scientists showed the huge herbivore stood 7’ tall with gigantic antlers that spanned 12’ across and weighed up to 80 lbs. Imagine running into him? Whoa.
No matter the amount of research, no one really knows whyantlers antlers exist.
Scientists have theories, but no concrete proof. Some theories are…
• To acquire a mate. The bigger the antlers, the better the quality of male. (I’m not commenting on that, especially while on a man’s site)
• They’re used as weapons to fight off other males, even though many times a gorgeous rack is enough to make the lesser male stand down.
• Defense against predators.
What blows the first two theories are female reindeer. If antlers exist merely to attract potential mates, then why do any females grow them? Some scientists believe horned (caribou) or antlered (reindeer) females who live out in open use them for protection and so they don’t stand out from the male members of society.They also use them to clear snow.
With regard to moose, they say the antlers are used as large hearing aids. But then, why don’t females grow them? Are female moose deaf? Or do they just not care what male moose have to say?
As I mentioned earlier, environment plays a key role in antler growth. The photo period is the 24 hour period where the deer are exposed to sunlight. In the summer we have longer days. During which bugs produce higher levels of testosterone, which triggers antler growth. Antlers start out as cartilage in velvet,which is fuzzy and rich in blood vessels. If we were to pet thevelvet, the antlers would be hot to the touch.
When the bugs go through a second cycle of testosterone, it triggers mineralization and hardening of the antlers. In the fall when the sunlight diminishes, deer rub their antlers against trees, other plant life, and bugs. This removes the velvet to reveal bony antlers. They carry these hardened antlers through the fall and winter. In the spring, the bugs drop in testosterone level signals another change. Within days of this drop, the antlers release from their pedicles. In other words, the deer sheds its antlers. A scab-like material grows over these pedicles and the cycle repeats, with these new growth cells.
Author Sage Quintano writes about crime. Her husband Niko investigates it. Together they make an unstoppable team. But no one counted on a twisted serial killer, who stalks their sleepy community, uproots their happy home, and splits the threads that bond their family unit.
Darkness swallows the Quintanos whole–ensnared by a ruthless killer out for blood. Why he focused on Sage remains a mystery, but he won't stop till she dies like the others.
Women impaled by deer antlers, bodies encased in oil drums, nursery rhymes, and the Suicide King. What connects these cryptic clues? For Sage and Niko, the truth may be more terrifying than they ever imagined.
Want to see how I used antlers in CLEAVED? Save $5.00 by pre-ordering now. Only 99c: http://smarturl.it/Cleaved
Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is a multi-published, award-winning author. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and collections, including a forensic article in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue co-hosts the radio show “Partners In Crime” on Blog Talk Radio. She’s also the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter, where she helps other crime writers' stories ring true.
She lives with her husband in a quaint country town in rural New Hampshire where she's surrounded by moose, deer, black bears, and the sultry songs of nature. Course, Sue would love to snuggle with the wildlife, but her husband frowns on the idea.
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