Moose
A male moose in a lake
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Capreolinae
Genus: Alces
Gray, 1821
Binomial name
Alces alces
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Where moose live (marked red)

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."

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

Moose-Gustav.jpg

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

Wading moose.jpg

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

Male Moose.jpg

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

Alces alces Cape Breton Highlands National Park.jpg

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

Lonesome-Lake-Moose.jpg

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

Shiras Bull at Cecret Lake a 07-25-12.JPG

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

Elch.PNG

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

Alces alces 8492
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. Moose antlers are broad and palmate (flat) with tines (points) along the outer edge. The antlers of mature Alaskan adult bull moose (5 to 12 years old) have a normal maximum spread greater than 200 centimeters (79 in). By the age of 13, moose antlers decline in size and symmetry. The widest spread recorded was 210 centimeters (83 in) across. (An Alaskan moose also holds the record for the heaviest weight at 36 kilograms (79 lb).)

Antler beam diameter, not the number of tines, indicates age. In North America moose (A. a. americanus) antlers are usually larger than those of Eurasian moose and have two lobes on each side, like a butterfly. Eurasian moose antlers resemble a seashell, with a single lobe on each side. In the North Siberian moose (A. a. bedfordiae), the posterior division of the main fork divides into three tines, with no distinct flattening. In the common moose (A. a. alces) this branch usually expands into a broad palmation, with one large tine at the base and a number of smaller snags on the free border. There is, however, a Scandinavian breed of the common moose in which the antlers are simpler and recall those of the East Siberian animals. The palmation appears to be more marked in North American moose than in the typical Scandinavian moose.

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.

If a bull moose is castrated, either by accidental or chemical means, he will quickly shed his current set of antlers and then immediately begin to grow a new set of misshapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again. The distinctive-looking appendages (often referred to as "devil's antlers") are the source of several myths and legends among many groups of Inuit as well as several other tribes of indigenous peoples of North America.

In extremely rare circumstances, a cow moose may grow antlers. This is usually attributed to a hormone imbalance.

Hooves

As with all members of the order Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates), moose feet have two large keratinized hooves corresponding to the third and fourth toe, with two small posterolateral dewclaws (vestigial digits), corresponding to the second and fifth toe. The hoof of the fourth digit is broader than that of the third digit, while the inner hoof of the third digit is longer than that of the fourth digit. This foot configuration may favor striding on soft ground. The moose hoof splays under load, increasing surface area, which limits sinking of the moose foot into soft ground or snow, and which increases efficiency when swimming. The body weight per footprint surface area of the moose foot is intermediate between that of the pronghorn foot, (which have stiff feet lacking dewclaws—optimized for high-speed running) and the caribou foot (which are more rounded with large dewclaws, optimized for walking in deep snow). The moose's body weight per surface area of footprint is about twice that of the caribou's.


On firm ground, a bull moose leaves a visible impression of the dewclaws in its footprint, while a cow moose or calf does not leave a dewclaw impression. On soft ground or mud, bull, cow, and calf footprints may all show dewclaw impressions.

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), depending on racial or clinal as well as individual age or nutritional variations. The head-and-body length is 2.4–3.1 m (7.9–10.2 ft), with the vestigial tail adding only a further 5–12 cm (2.0–4.7 in). The largest of all the races is the Alaskan subspecies (A. a. gigas), which can stand over 2.1 m (6.9 ft) at the shoulder, has a span across the antlers of 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and averages 634.5 kg (1,399 lb) in males and 478 kg (1,054 lb) in females. Typically, however, the antlers of a mature bull are between 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and 1.5 m (4.9 ft). The largest confirmed size for this species was a bull shot at the Yukon River in September 1897 that weighed 820 kg (1,808 lb) and measured 2.33 m (7.6 ft) high at the shoulder. There have been reported cases of even larger moose, including a bull that reportedly scaled 1,180 kg (2,601 lb), but none are authenticated and some may not be considered reliable. 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
Moose 983 LAB
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. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food. A moose's upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and the lip is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all. 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. This trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and water to wet themselves in. Moose have been known to dive underwater to reach plants on lake bottoms, and the complex snout may assist the moose in this type of feeding. Moose are the only deer that are capable of feeding underwater. 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. The moose's varied and complex diet is typically expensive for humans to provide, and free-range moose require a lot of forested acreage for sustainable survival, which is one of the main reasons moose have never been widely domesticated.

Natural predators

Moose Tiger
Iron Age saddle from Siberia, depicting a moose being hunted by a Siberian tiger.
Wolves attack moose 2012-04-12 001 (cropped)
Moose attacked by wolves

A full-grown moose has few enemies except Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) which regularly prey on adult moose, but a pack of gray wolves (Canis lupus) can still pose a threat, especially to females with calves. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are also known to prey on moose of various sizes, including many pregnant adult cows in some parts of Alaska and Scandinavia and even the rare bull moose, and are the only predator besides the wolf to attack moose both in Eurasia and North America. However, brown 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 (Ursus americanus) and cougars (Puma concolor) can be significant predators of moose calves in May and June and can, in rare instances, prey on adults (mainly cows rather than the larger bulls). Wolverine (Gulo gulo) are most likely to eat moose as carrion but have killed moose, including adults, when the large ungulates are weakened by harsh winter conditions. Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are the moose's only known marine predator as they have been known to prey on moose swimming between islands out of North America's Northwest Coast, however, there is at least one recorded instance of a moose preyed upon by a Greenland shark.

In some areas, moose are the primary source of food for wolves. Moose usually flee upon detecting wolves. Wolves usually follow moose at a distance of 100 to 400 meters (330 to 1,310 ft), occasionally at a distance of 2 to 3 kilometers (1.2 to 1.9 mi). Attacks from wolves against young moose may last seconds, though sometimes they can be drawn out for days with adults. Sometimes, wolves will chase moose into shallow streams or onto frozen rivers, where their mobility is greatly impeded. Moose will sometimes stand their ground and defend themselves by charging at the wolves or lashing out at them with their powerful hooves. Wolves typically kill moose by tearing at their haunches and perineum, causing massive blood loss. Occasionally, a wolf may immobilise a moose by biting its sensitive nose, the pain of which can paralyze a moose. Wolf packs primarily target calves and elderly animals, but can and will take healthy, adult moose. Moose between the ages of two and eight are seldom killed by wolves. Though moose are usually hunted by packs, there are cases in which single wolves have successfully killed healthy, fully-grown moose.

Research into moose predation suggests that their response to perceived threats is learned rather than instinctual. In practical terms this means moose are more vulnerable in areas where wolf or bear populations were decimated in the past but are now rebounding. These same studies suggest, however, that moose learn quickly and adapt, fleeing an area if they hear or smell wolves, bears, or scavenger birds such as ravens.

Moose are also subject to various diseases and forms of parasitism. In northern Europe, the moose botfly is a parasite whose range seems to be spreading.

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.

Images


Moose Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.