Moose Madness Family Festival
The Amazing Alces Alces, The Twig-Eater, The Moose!
Scientific name: Alces Alces – Male is a bull, female is a cow, and the young are calves.
The moose is the largest member of the deer family (Cervidae), and its relatives are elk, whitetail deer and caribou. The name “moose” probably came from the Algonquian words “mus” or “moos”, meaning “eater of twigs”. There are 4 subspecies of moose found in North America –alces gigas (Alaska Yukon), alces Anderson (the largest, Western Canada), alces Americanus (local, and eastern Canada), and alces shiras (Yellowstone and other high altitudes).
Fast Moose Facts
Life span: 15 – 20 years
Weight: males, 800 – 1600 lbs., females, 600 – 1,000 lbs.
Body Length: 7 – 10 ft.
Body Height: 5 – 7 ft. at shoulder
Tracks: 5” – 6.5”, similar to deer, but moose have dewclaws
Stride: 3.5’ walking, 8’+ running at top speed
Running speed: 35 mph; swimming speed 6mph (faster than most canoeists)
Moose have dark brown, reddish or almost black hair coloration, depending on age, gender and species. They also have a flap of hair-covered skin under their chin area called a bell or dewlap, most pronounced on bulls. They have long, skinny legs, and the front pair are slightly longer than the rear, due to their shoulder hump, and those long legs help the moose travel through deep snow and marshes. They are even-toed hooved animals (the size is twice that of a deer) but with a dewclaw, which mayhelp with traction in mud and snow. Moose are near-sighted, which can be helpful if you need to escape a mad moose (a cow with her calves, for instance), but they have great senses of hearing and smell. They can also their breath underwater for about a minute – great for nibbling underwater plants and swimming.
Moose are herbivores (plant eaters) and are especially fond of weeping willow branches and water lilies. They browse the twigs, roots, bark and shoots of young woody plants year round – in winter, even the needles of pine trees. Moose need about 60 lbs. of food per day – and in the fall, they try to consume 130 lbs. per day to store fat for the winter months when food is scarcer. They feed in areas that have new young growth (logged areas or places burned by fire), although they aare wary of being out in the open – wolves can spot them more easily. They have four stomach chambers – and we have only one!
Babies are born in the late spring, 8 months after the mating season (the “rut”). Usually cows have single births, although if food has been abundant, she may have twins. Calves are usually light brown or a rusty color, and they don’t have spots, like deer do. They weigh about 30 lbs. at birth, and they can stand after a couple of days. They can afollow their mothers easily after about 3 weeks, weigh about 300 – 400 lbs. at 3 months, and are weaned after 5 – 6 months. They are on their own once Mom has another baby!
Only the bulls have antlers, which they use to push other bulls around during the rut, to impress other moose as a sign of fitness, health and age, and to mark their territory by thrashing them around in trees and shrubs. Every year, around December, the antlers are shed and new ones begin to grow. – and the sheds are a great source of calcium for mice and other small forest dwellers. Moose antlers are “palmate”, meaning they are palm, or hand-shaped – but what a hand! The largest antlers ( achieved at about 10 – 12 years of age) usually have about 30 “tines” , or points, a spread of about 4 – 5 ft., weight about 60 lbs., and grow about 1 inch per day! Each time antlers begin growing again, they are covered in “velvet”, a soft skin that covers the antlers and keeps blood flowing to them for growth. Just before mating, the skin dries out and the moose scrape their antlers on trees and shrubs to shed that skin, leaving “rubs”. Then the antlers are ready to use in shoving matches and to impress the “ladies”.
Moose live in areas that are well forested with their favorite food and have a good amount of wetlands – this type of area is called a boreal forest. Pines (conifers), aspen, birch and maples are the most common trees, and marshes, bogs, muddy ponds and muskegs are also important to moose. Currently moose range all through Alaska, most of Canada, the northern U.S. from North Dakota through the Great Lakes region, across to parts of New England, and from the northern Rockies south to some parts of Utah. Moose prefer summer temps around or below 60 F, and winters with temps a little below freezing. In summer, they are most active at dusk and dawn, remaining in the shade during the hotter parts of the day. During the day, they are most active during the day – fattening up for winter! They can navigate snow up to 3 ft. very well in winter, although thickly crusted snow can cut their legs as they walk.
Friend and Foes
A healthy moose has few enemies capable of taking it down, while calves and older moose have wolves and bears to fear. That said – mothers protecting their young have been known to kill both! And, a healthy bull can outmaneuver and outsmart bear, and a well-landed moose kick can cripple any wolf. It is always best to use caution if you know a moose is near – they can go from docile and uninterested to charging in a moment! Signs of a mad moose – ears are laid back, hair in the spine is standing on end, it is kicking or stomping, walking directly towards you, licking its lips or making threatening noises. What to do – if you have a clear path, running is a good option (though you can’t outrun a moose), since this may convince the moose that you are not a threat. If there is nowhere to run, keep something large, between you and the moose Tress, rocks). Being nearsighted, a moose is not likely to wiggle through and around trees to find you. Once the moose has gone back to feeding, best to just leave, rather than return for a closer look and agitate him further.