Although its appearance is very different from other deer: a moose is a deer. Not only that, moose are the largest member of the deer family, one of the largest deer of all time and the largest land animal in Europe and North America. [Source: John Madson, Smithsonian magazine]

Moose are large ungulates (hoofed mammals) identified by their long, rounded snouts; huge, flattened antlers; and massive bodies. They live in the northern United States, Canada and Europe. In North America, they are called moose; in Europe, they are called Eurasian elk. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014 ^|^]

Moose is an Algonquin (a Native American tribe) term that means "twig eater." Male moose are called bulls. Females are called cows. Young moose of either sex is a calf. The plural of "moose" is "moose" — not "mooses" and not "meese." The plural is the same as the singular in many words that come from Native American languages. The same is true of many wildlife names not of Indian origin — for example: deer, mink and grouse." ^|^

Moose prefer a swampy, boggy habitat but are also found in woodlands. They are comfortable in temperatures down to -45 degrees F but become uncomfortable in temperatures above 80 degrees F and often seek water when the temperature gets that high to cool off. Alina Bradford wrote in Live Science: “ Moose live only in areas that have seasonal snow cover. The animals prefer colder climates. They cannot tolerate temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) for long because they cannot sweat, and the fermentation caused by their digestion creates a large amount of heat. ^|^

Book: "Moose" by Kevin Jackson (Reaktion Books, 2008). Sources: A) Animal Diversity Web (ADW), a database maintained by the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology. B) American Museum of Natural History: Moose. C) National Wildlife Foundation: Mighty Moose! D) National Geographic: Moose. E) Minnesota Zoo: Moose Facts. E) Moose With 'Helicopter' Moms Make Better Survivors. F) Malnutrition Could Cause Arthritis, At Least in Moose. G) Shark Beached After Choking on Moose.

Taxonomy and Subspecies of Moose

The European elk is almost identical to a moose. Thus when Europeans talk about an elk they are usually referring to what Americans call a moose. Efforts to end the confusion by using the term "wapati" (the Shawnee Indian name for elk) in the United States have failed. The European elk is slightly smaller than moose found in North America.

Moose are part of the Cervidae family, which includes cervids, caribou, deer, moose and wapiti. The taxonomy of moose, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), is: Kingdom: Animalia; Subkingdom: Bilateria ; Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia ; Phylum: Chordata; Subphylum: Vertebrata; Infraphylum: Gnathostomata; Superclass: Tetrapoda; Class: Mammalia Subclass: Theria; Infraclass: Eutheria; Order: Artiodactyla: Family: Cervidae : Subfamily: Capreolinae; Genus & species: Alces alces, Alces americanus (American moose) [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014 ^|^]

Subspecies: Alces alces alces (European elk), Alces alces caucasicus (Caucasian moose — extinct), Alces americanus americanus, Alces americanus cameloides While ITIS and some researchers list the American moose as a distinct species, there is still some debate about whether it is a true species (Alces americanus) or subspecies (Alces alces cameloides), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The group says, "Further research is needed before a consensus would support species-level classification." ^|^

Moose Size

Bull (male) moose stands about two meters (six feet) high at the shoulder, reaches lengths of three meters (nine feet) and weigh an average of 410 kilograms (900 pounds), with large ones on the Alaskan Kenai peninsula standing seven tall at the shoulder and weighing as much as 810 kilograms (1,800 pounds). According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest moose ever recorded was 1,800 pound animal, standing 7 feet inches tall. It was shot in the Yukon territory in September 1897. Cows (female) are about three fourths the size of males and have no antlers, which makes the head appear ungainly and out of balance.

Alina Bradford wrote in Live Science: “ Their height, from hoof to shoulder, ranges from 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 to 2 meters). Males are heavier than females; males weigh 794 to 1,323 pounds (360 to 600 kilograms), while females weigh 595 to 882 pounds (270 to 400 kg), according to the National Museum of Natural History. [Source:Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014]

Moose Characteristics

Moose are usually dark brown in color and have a hump on their shoulders and large ears that can rotate to give them stereophonic hearing. They have short, stubby tails; thin legs; beady eyes, bristly hair and a large head with a broad, flexible, fleshy , downward-curving muzzle, and a hairy fold of skin called a bell or dewlap hanging from the neck that seems to serve no purpose. Moose hair is hollow. This type of fur helps to insulate the animal from the cold.

Moose generally lumber along and move extraordinarily quietly for animals so large. However, they have long legs and can run quite fast if necessary. Moose have keen senses of hearing and smell. They can detect humans and predators such wolves from a far distance and generally do their best to keep their distance.

A moose's front legs are longer than its back legs. This helps the moose more easily jump over things lying in its path. The hump on a moose's back is caused by massive shoulder muscles. A moose's wide hooves act like built-in snowshoes, helping the moose walk in the snow.Moose can run 35 mph (56 km/h) over short distances and trot at 20 mph (32 km/h) for longer periods. Moose are strong swimmers and can swim up to 6 mph (9.5 km/h) and as far as 12.4 miles (20 km). Moose can also stay under water for 30 seconds when swimming. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014]

Males have a huge set of broad, arching antlers that can reach a length of over two meters (seven feet) and weigh 40 kilograms (85 pounds) or more. The antlers resemble a pair of hands with the palms open and the fingers pointing upwards. Males lose their antlers in December and begin grow a new set in April that reaches full size in June. Moose antlers are covered with velvet which peals and is rubbed off in on bushes and trees in August after the blood supply is cut off. Antlers are a kind of symbol of strength and virility intended to impress females and intimidate rivals. Antlers are mostly used for fighting for a mate, and they are shed each winter after rutting (mating) season, which runs from September to October. They also come in handy during wolf attacks.

Moose Behavior

Moose are generally placid, easy going and solitary and avoid trouble expect in the rutting season when males cane be quite aggressive. Moose enjoying wading in swamps and marshes. In the summer when mosquitos and biting flies are particularly fierce, their often submerge themselves so that only their noses stick up above the water. Except during the mating season, moose stay in relatively small territories.

Alina Bradford wrote in Live Science: “Moose are considered the least social animal, according to ADW. They are solitary animals, except when it comes to mating. During mating season, some dominant male moose in Alaska will herd a group of females together to create a "harem herd." Other males will fight the leader of the herd for the right to mate with the females. The moose's most active times are at sunrise and at sunset. They spend their time finding new grazing spots, eating and resting to let their food digest, while always being wary of nearby predators, which include bears, wolves and cougars. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014]

Moose produce a surprisingly wide variety of noises. Bulls "bellow," "croak" and "bark." Younger animals "cry" and whine to their mothers. Cows wail and moan in the rutting season and can be heard a mile away.

When cornered moose fight back fiercely with their front feet and antlers. A single blow from powerful moose hooves can kill or cripple a human, a bear or a wolf. While on hunting trip Theodore Roosevelt was charged by a bull moose. He wrote afterward it came at him "at a slashing trot, shaking his head, his ears back, the hair on his withers bristling." Roosevelt shot it when it was "not 30 feet off." Describing his encounter with a seven-foot female moose, Colorado Rep. Bob Scahffer said, "She had a look in her eyes saying, 'I don't know who you are, but I'm going to kill you.'"

Moose Feeding Behavior

Adult moose consumer 50 to 60 pounds of food a day. The stomach of an adult moose has a 112-pound capacity. Like other ruminants, or cud chewer, moose have a four chamber stomach and regurgitate partially digested food and "chew their cud". Food is fermented in the first chamber, and nutrients are extracted in the next three (See Below). The word moose is derived from the Algonquian Indian word for twig eater. Moose don't usually graze. When they do their legs are so long they sometimes have get down on their knees to reach the ground.

Moose tend to feed on willow tips, the shoots of maples and other trees, bark, twigs, branches, various evergreens, leaves, bark, pine cones, twigs and buds of trees and shrubs. They seem love succulent aquatic plants such as water lilies best. They are often seen wading in ponds and marshes, periodically dipping their head on the water to bring up plants. Often they emerge with plants hanging from their antlers too. Aquatic plants don't contain a lot of nutrients though. It is now belied that one reason moose eat them is to get enough salt, which is necessary for good health but isn't found in great quantities in terrestrial plants.

Moose use their bottom incisors as chisels to scrape upwards and strip the bark off trees.. Evidence of a moose in the area is include plants and trees snipped off at a height of two meters Penned moose in Alaska are fed a mixture of aspen sawdust, ground corn, oats and barely, cane molasses, soybean meal and added vitamins and minerals. The sawdust is a good substitute for the woody material that moose usually eat.

Deer, cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, buffalo, antelopes, giraffes, and their relatives are ruminants — cud-chewing mammals that have a distinctive digestive system designed to obtain nutrients from large amounts of nutrient-poor grass. Ruminants evolved about 20 million years ago in North America and migrated from there to Europe and Asia and to a lesser extent South America, where they never became widespread.

Moose Reproduction and Calves

During the fall rutting (mating) season, males bellow loudly at cows, crash through the underbrush and battle one another with their huge antlers to win the right to mate with females. After much bellowing bulls and cows meet and mate. A dominant bull may mate with several cows in a single season. Large males often intimidate small rivals by simply showing off their huge racks. When two large males decide to fight it a serious and sometimes deadly. Sometime both combatants die when they lock racks in the water and get stuck and drown.

In May, females give birth to one, sometimes two and rarely three calves. The calves are born weak and knobby kneed but within a few days they are strong enough to get around. By summer they are swimming with their mothers. When they get tired they hang their legs on their mother back and get pulled along. The calves grow quickly but remain dependent on their mothers. Females usually give birth once a year. In the spring often have to shoo away their calves so the they can prepare to give birth to new offspring.

Alina Bradford wrote in Live Science: “After a gestation period of 231 days, females give birth to one baby, which is called a calf. Within their first day of life, calves can stand up on their own. They weigh around 35.7 pounds (16.2 kg) at birth and grow very quickly,gaining 2.2 lbs. (1 kg) per day while they are nursing. After 6 months, calves are weaned. At 4 to 6 years old they are fully grown, though many never make it to adulthood. Around 50 percent of calves die due to bear or wolf attacks before they are 6 weeks old, according to ADW. Once they are adults, they have a survival rate of up to 95 percent. Surviving moose typically live around 15 to 20 years. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014]

Moose, Wolves and Predators

Brown bears have been observed pulling down adult moose and both brown bears and black bears prey on calves. When cornered moose fight back fiercely with their front feet and antlers. A single blow from powerful moose hooves can kill or cripple a human, a bear or a wolf. In North America, about a third of calves are killed by predators. When a mother and calf are under attack, the mother usually keeps the calf in front of her and mounts a rear guard and lashes out with her front and hind hooves.

David Mech a research biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once observed a pack of 15 wolves bring down a 600-pound moose and eat half the carcass in three hours. Describing an attack on a moose and calf, Mech wrote in National Geographic: "Most of the wolves were worrying the cow while two pursued its bolting offspring. After about 150 yards, one wolf lunged at the rump of the calf and held on: the other clamped onto its throat. The calf stopped and began trampling the front wolf into the snow. Still the wolf managed to hold one before relinquishing its throat hold." [Source: David Mech, National Geographic, October 1977]

"The other wolf, however remained tugging on the calf's rump. The front wolf then dived under the running moose and again fastened onto its throat...Then two more wolves reinforced the attack. One grasped the calf by the nose, and other by its right flank. The struggling moose pulled all four wolves through the snow, then finally collapsed in a heap. A few minutes later the moose's flesh was being converted into wolf's meat."

Endangered Moose?

Moose are not endangered. An estimated one million moose live in North America alone. Moose are found in North America as far south as Maine, Colorado and Minnesota and as far north as the Arctic Circle. The European elk is found in northern Scandinavia and Russia and a small corner of Poland.

Alina Bradford wrote in Live Science: “The IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species categorizes moose as "least concern" because they are very widespread and extremely abundant despite fairly intense hunting. The global population of moose is estimated to be about 1.5 million and increasing. The Caucasian moose was hunted to extinction by the early 19th century. Young moose are prey for bears, wolves and cougars; about half do not live beyond 6 weeks, according to ADW. Adult moose, however, have a high chance for survival. Vehicle-moose collisions pose the greatest danger to the animals, according to Alaska Fish and Game. Hundreds of moose are killed each year in Alaska, which has the highest rate of moose-vehicle collisions in the world. [Source: Alina Bradford, Live Science, November 13, 2014]

Moose and elk have a hard time living in places with white tail deer, who roam all over the United States. These deer carry a snail-bourne meningeal worm that is relatively harmless to white tails but eats away at the brain of caribou, moose, elk and other kinds of deer.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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