Moose

Scientific Name: Alces americanus

Moose in water

Description: Moose are the largest members of the deer family, standing 6 feet tall from hoof to shoulder, and weighing in at over 1000 pounds. Each of their light to dark brown hairs is hollow, and the air trapped inside provides insulation. A flap of skin called a dewlap hangs from the throat. Males are distinguished from females by their antlers that grow up to 6 feet across.

Diet: The word “moose” is an Algonquin term meaning “eater of twigs.” Moose are so tall that they have difficulty bending down to eat grasses, so they prefer to feed on leaves, bark, and twigs from trees and shrubs. Their favorite foods come from native willow, aspen, and balsam fir trees. They also munch on aquatic plants from streams and ponds.

Predation: Adult moose use their antlers or hooves to defend themselves from predators like bears and wolves. The much smaller calves are easier for predators to take down, and many of them fall victim to predation before reaching their first birthday. Moose also suffer from a predator of another sort, parasitic brain worm. White-tailed deer are carriers of the parasite, but it has no effect on them. When deer defecate, the brain worms are transferred from their waste to land snails. When moose unknowingly eat the snails while foraging for food, they ingest the parasite.

Typical Lifespan: Moose can live more than 20 years in the wild, but many begin to suffer the symptoms of old age before then. A more typical lifespan is 10 to 12 years.

Habitat: Due to their large size and insulating fur, moose are limited to cold climates. Forested areas with streams and ponds are ideal moose habitat.

U.S. Range: Moose are found in the northern regions of the world, from Maine to Washington, throughout Canada, and into Alaska.

Life History and Reproduction: Male moose, called bulls, begin to grow antlers in springtime to prepare for the autumn mating season. Large, mature bulls with well-developed antlers usually get to mate with the female moose, called cows. When bulls are competing for the same cow, they may use their antlers to fight off their opponents. After mating season bulls drop their antlers. They re-grow them again in the spring. The young calves stay with their mothers for a year before venturing off to live a solitary lifestyle.

Fun Fact: Moose are quite amphibious! They can run at speeds of over 30 miles per hour on land and paddle through water at 6 miles per hour.

Conservation Status: Moose often roam through residential areas looking for food, and motorists occasionally collide with them. Hunting and habitat degradation are major threats to moose, but now climate change has caused moose populations in Minnesota to fall dramatically. When it gets too warm moose look for shelter rather than foraging for food. More abundant ticks and other parasites are making moose weak from blood loss and causing them to rub off patches of their fur, which leaves them more vulnerable to cold winter temperatures.

Learn more about global warming's impacts on moose populations >>

Sources:

Climate Crisis Deepens for America’s Moose
IUCN Red List
National Geographic Society
NatureServe Explorer
Nature Works
New Hampshire Fish and Game
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web 

 

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