Scientific Name: Alces alces
Did you know that moose are the largest member of the deer family? Male moose, known as bulls, can weigh as much as 1,400 pounds. That is equivalent to about 8 grown men! However, the species of moose found here in the Border Country are usually between 700-1,200 pounds. Females usually weigh between 700-1,100 pounds and males are between 900-1,200 pounds. Moose are unique, charismatic animals. They are easily identified by their large noses, humped shoulders, and great size. These animals also have a huge flap of skin and fur under their necks called a “bell.” Male moose have a much larger bell than females. Another cool characteristic of moose are the large antlers found on males. Sometimes these antlers weigh as much as 75 pounds! The males spend a lot of their energy growing these impressive antlers. Each year the antlers are shed between mid-December and January and begin to grow again in early spring. Antlers grow quickly and a thin furry covering known as “velvet” begins to grow over them. In August, when the antlers are full grown, the velvet sloughs off within a few days.
Did you know that moose can run up to 35 miles per hour? They can also move quickly in water. Moose are very good swimmers and they can swim about 6 miles per hour. That is quite impressive for a creature with four long, skinny legs.
What do moose eat? Moose have very different diets from us. They are known as herbivores which means they only eat plants. The amount of food that they need to eat changes throughout the year. In the summer, when there is plenty of lush food available, the moose eat large amounts of catkins and tall grasses living in the water. They even eat the leaves of water lilies. They also enjoy eating fresh plant shoots. In the winter they do not eat much because food is harder to find. During winter they mostly eat willow bushes and other woody plants. In the spring, summer, and fall moose need to eat about 50-60 pounds of food per day to maintain their great size. A moose stomach can hold up to 112 pounds of food at one time!
Click on photo to enlarge
Click on photos to enlarge
Where do moose live? Moose prefer cool climates and places with a lot of fresh water. They are found in some of the northern most states in the U.S. such as Wyoming, Montana, Maine, and Minnesota. We are fortunate here in the border country because moose are found all over this area. Moose prefer old mature forests filled with spruce, aspen, and willow thickets. In the summer it is quite common to see moose swim across lakes and ponds to find food. They spend much time munching on catkins and grasses that grow in the lakes. To make sure they obtain enough nourishment out of the grasses they eat the entire plant, including the roots. In the summer, moose usually live alone. Sometimes they will meet up at common feeding area and the males are known to group up and play with each other. One of their favorite games is called “sparring”. This is when they push each other with their antlers. It is rare for moose to actually fight. The pregnant females are usually found alone. In the winter, moose will sometimes form herds to simplify travel through the snow to find feeding areas.
What do moose families consist of? Male moose are called bulls, female moose are cows and young moose are known as calves. Cows usually have about 1-2 calves at a time. The calves are born in May and June and weigh between 25-34 pounds. Unlike human babies calves can walk on their first day of birth. The calves stay with their mothers for about a year until the cow has another calf. In the fall, bulls begin rutting and look for cows to mate with. Sometimes these wandering bulls get into fights with other males.
Click on photo to enlarge
How do I look for signs of moose? A good clue to see if moose have passed by is to look for their footprints or tracks. They have split hooves that are usually about 5 inches long. Another clue of moose activity is to look out for their droppings or scat. In the summer when they are eating lush green plants their scat looks like piles similar to cow droppings. In the winter their scat look like long round pellets. Moose also like to rest on the ground. If you find a clearing in the grass or snow that is about 4 feet wide then it is likely that you found a moose bed!
Sources Geist, V. 1999. Moose:Behavior, Ecology, Conservation. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN. Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: A field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfiefer-Hamilton, Duluth. Whitaker, J.O. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.