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Moose
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Male (bull)
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Female (cow)
Conservation status
Scientific classification
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Moose range map

A moose (Alces alces; called elk in Europe) is a large deer. Some authorities put the American moose in a different species, Alces americanus.

A male moose is called a bull, a female moose is called a cow, and a young moose is called a calf. A group of moose is called a herd. The plural form of moose is "moose”. Some people jokingly use the word “meese” based on “goose” and “geese”.

Moose live in northern Europe, Asia, and in North America. Moose usually live in areas with lakes, marshes and swamps. They also live in mountain ranges.

Populations

North America:

  • In Canada : There are an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 moose with 150,000 in Newfoundland in 2007 descended from just four that were introduced in the 1900s.
  • In United States : There are estimated to be around 300,000:
    • Alaska: The state's Department of Fish and Game estimated 200,000 in 2011.
    • Northeast: A wildlife ecologist estimated 50,000 in New York and New England in 2007, with expansion expected.
    • Rocky Mountain states: Wyoming is said to have the largest share in its 6-state region, and its Fish and Game Commission estimated 7,692 in 2009.
    • Upper Midwest: Michigan estimated 433 (in its Upper Peninsula) in 2011, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 20–40 (close to its upper-peninsula border with Michigan) in 2003, Minnesota 5600 in its northeast in 2010, and under 100 in its northwest in 2009; North Dakota closed, due to low moose population, one of its moose-hunting geographic units in 2011, and issued 162 single-kill licenses to hunters, each restricted to one of the remaining nine units.

Europe and Asia:

  • Finland : In 2009, there was a summer population of 115,000.
  • Norway : In 2009, there were a winter population of around 120,000. In 2015 31,131 moose were shot. In 1999, a record number of 39,422 moose were shot.
  • Latvia : in 2015, there were 21,000.
  • Estonia : 13,260
  • Poland : 2,800
  • Czech Republic : maximum of 50
  • Russia : In 2007, there were approximately 600,000.
  • Sweden : Summer population is estimated to be 300,000–400,000. Around 100,000 are shot each fall. About 10,000 are killed in traffic accidents yearly.

Subspecies

Eurasian elk

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A. a. alces Finland, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia. No longer present in central and western Europe except for Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, with a certain population in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and northern Ukraine, but can be observed in Bohemia since the 1970s and a tiny reintroduced population in Scotland, Great Britain, recently sighted in eastern Germany. (Range formerly included France, Switzerland, and Benelux nations.) Population increasing and regaining territory. Males weigh about 320 to 475 kg (705 to 1,047 lb) and females weigh 275 to 375 kg (606 to 827 lb) in this mid-sized subspecies. Shoulder height ranges from 1.7 to 2.1 m (5.6 to 6.9 ft).
Yakutia moose, or the mid-Siberian/Lena moose

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A. a. pfizenmayeri Eastern Siberia, Mongolia, and Manchuria. Mostly found in forests of eastern Russia. The most common moose in Asia. Its ranging goes from the Yenisei River in the west and most of Siberia. Range excludes the ranges of the Chukotka and Amur moose to the east and Northern Mongolia. Similar in size to the western moose of Canada.
Ussurian or Amur moose A. a. cameloides Ranges from Amur-Ussuri region of far eastern Russia, as well as the North Eastern part of China. Amur moose are different from other moose in that their antler size is much smaller, or lack any at all. Even adult bulls antlers are small and cervine with little palmation. It is the smallest moose subspecies in Asia and the world, with both males and females standing only 1.65 to 1.85 m (5.4 to 6.1 ft) at the shoulder and weigh between 200 and 350 kg (441 and 772 lb).
Chukotka moose or east Siberian moose

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A. a. buturlini Ranges from Northeastern Siberia from the Alazeya River basin east to the Kolyma and Anadyr basins and south through the Koryak range and Kamchatka Peninsula. Largest moose in Europe and Asia. Matches, and maybe even surpasses, the Alaskan moose (A. a. gigas), as the largest of the races and thus the largest race of deer alive. Bulls can grow up to 2.15 m (7.1 ft) tall and weigh between 500 and 725 kg (1,102 and 1,598 lb); females are somewhat smaller.
Eastern moose

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A. a. americana Eastern Canada, including eastern Ontario, all of Quebec, and the Atlantic Provinces. Northeastern United States including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and northern New York near the Adirondack Mountains. Population increasing. This is a fairly small-bodied subspecies, females weighing an average of 270 kg (595 lb), males weighing an average of 365 kg (805 lb) and bulls stand up to approximately 2 m (6.6 ft) at the shoulder.
Western moose

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A. a. andersoni British Columbia to western Ontario, eastern Yukon, Northwest Territories, southwestern Nunavut, Michigan (Upper Peninsula), northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, and northeastern North Dakota. A mid-sized race that weighs 340 to 420 kg (750 to 926 lb) in adult females and 450 to 500 kg (992 to 1,102 lb) in adult males, on average.
Alaska moose

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A. a. gigas Alaska and western Yukon. The largest subspecies in North America, mass cited below.
Shiras moose

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A. a. shirasi Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah Washington, and Wyoming. Smallest subspecies in North America, weighing about 230 to 344 kg (507 to 758 lb) at maturity.
† Caucasian moose

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A. a. caucasicus Caucasus Mountains. Extinct due to loss of habitat and overhunting. Range would have included Iran, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

Description and anatomy

Antlers

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Growing antlers are covered with a soft, furry covering called "velvet". Blood vessels in the velvet transport nutrients to support antler growth.

Bull moose have antlers like other members of the deer family. Cows select mates based on antler size. Bull moose use dominant displays of antlers to discourage competition and will spar or fight rivals. The size and growth rate of antlers is determined by diet and age; symmetry reflects health.

The male's antlers grow as cylindrical beams projecting on each side of the head at right angles to the midline of the skull, and then fork. The lower prong of this fork may be either simple, or divided into two or three tines, with some flattening.

Antler beam diameter, not the number of tines, indicates age.

Alces alces
Young female (A. a. americana) in early June.

After the mating season males drop their antlers to conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will then regrow in the spring. Antlers take three to five months to fully develop, making them one of the fastest growing animal organs.

Antler growth is "nourished by an extensive system of blood vessels in the skin covering, which contains numerous hair follicles that give it a 'velvet' texture." This requires intense grazing on a highly-nutritious diet. By September the velvet is removed by rubbing and thrashing which changes the colour of the antlers. Immature bulls may not shed their antlers for the winter, but retain them until the following spring.

Birds, carnivores and rodents eat dropped antlers as they are full of protein and moose themselves will eat antler velvet for the nutrients.

Fur

Their fur consist of two layers; top layer of long guard hairs and a soft wooly undercoat. The guard hairs are hollow and filled with air for better insulation, which also helps them stay afloat when swimming.

Dewlap

Both male and female moose have a dewlap or bell, which is a fold of skin under the chin. Its exact use is unknown, but theories state that it might be used in mating, as a visual and olfactory signal, or as a dominance signal by males, as are the antlers.

Size and weight

Moose crossing river in yellowstone
Crossing a river

On average, an adult moose stands 1.4–2.1 m (4.6–6.9 ft) high at the shoulder, which is more than a foot higher than the next largest deer on average, the elk. Males (or "bulls") normally weigh from 380 to 700 kg (838 to 1,543 lb) and females (or "cows") typically weigh 200 to 490 kg (441 to 1,080 lb). Behind only the two species of bison, the moose is the second largest land animal in both North America and Europe.

Ecology and biology

Diet

Alces alces bark stripping
Bark stripping
Bull moose close up feeding on fireweed
Bull moose eating a fireweed plant
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Bull moose browses a beaver pond

The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume 9,770 kcal (40.9 MJ) per day to maintain its body weight. Much of a moose's energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, aquatic plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life. In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter. A typical moose, weighing 360 kg (794 lb), can eat up to 32 kg (71 lb) of food per day.

Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation.

A moose's diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others.

To reach high branches, a moose may bend small saplings down, using its prehensile lip, mouth or body. For larger trees a moose may stand erect and walk upright on its hind legs, allowing it to reach branches up to 4.26 meters (14.0 ft) or higher above the ground.

Moose also eat many aquatic plants, including lilies and pondweed. Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. As an adaptation for feeding on plants underwater, the nose is equipped with fatty pads and muscles that close the nostrils when exposed to water pressure, preventing water from entering the nose. Other species can pluck plants from the water too, but these need to raise their heads in order to swallow.

This fenced in area is part of a long-term research project to examine the effects of moose browsing on plant biodiversity.

Moose are not grazing animals but browsers (concentrate selectors). Like giraffes, moose carefully select foods with less fiber and more concentrations of nutrients. Thus, the moose's digestive system has evolved to accommodate this relatively low-fiber diet.

Unlike most hooved, domesticated animals (ruminants), moose cannot digest hay, and feeding it to a moose can be fatal.

Predators

Moose Tiger
Iron Age saddle from Siberia, depicting a moose being hunted by a Siberian tiger.

A full-grown moose has few natural enemies. Siberian tigers prey on adult moose. Wolves also pose a threat, especially to females with calves. Brown bears are known to prey on moose, although bears are more likely to take over a wolf kill or to take young moose than to hunt adult moose on their own. American black bears and cougars can take moose calves and can sometimes kill adult cows. Wolverine are most likely to eat moose as carrion but have killed moose, including adults, when the moose are weakened by harsh winter conditions. Killer whales are the moose's only known marine predator. They have been known to prey on moose swimming between islands off North America's northwest coast.

Moose and humans

Moose have been hunted by humans since the Stone Age.

Because of their dark coloured fur, moose are hard to see when they are crossing roads at night. They are sometimes hit by cars. In some countries like Canada, Finland and Sweden there are moose warning signs on roads and motorways are fenced.

Social structure and reproduction

Moose are mostly diurnal. They are generally solitary with the strongest bonds between mother and calf. Although moose rarely gather in groups, there may be several in close proximity during the mating season.

Mating occurs in September and October. The males are polygamous and will seek several females to breed with. During this time both sexes will call to each other. Males produce heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away, while females produce wail-like sounds. Males will fight for access to females. Initially, the males assess which of them is dominant and one bull may retreat, however, the interaction can escalate to a fight using their antlers.

Female moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is plentiful, in May or June. Twinning can run as high as 30% to 40% with good nutrition Newborn moose have fur with a reddish hue in contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born. The life span of an average moose is about 15–25 years. Moose populations are stable at 25 calves for every 100 cows at 1 year of age. With availability of adequate nutrition, mild weather, and low predation, moose have a huge potential for population expansion.

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