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Moose

Moose

Alces americanus

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Mammal

Description

Moose are the largest members of the deer family, standing six feet (1.8 meters) tall from hoof to shoulder, and weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms). 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, which grow up to six feet across.

Range

Moose are found in the northern regions of the United States, from Maine to Washington, throughout Canada, and into Alaska. Due to their large size and insulating fur, moose are limited to cold climates. Forested areas with streams and ponds are ideal moose habitat.

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 worms. 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.

Diet

Moose are herbivores. 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.

Life History

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 the mating season, bulls drop their antlers. They regrow them again in the spring.

The young calves stay with their mothers for a year before venturing off to live a solitary lifestyle. 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.

Conservation

Massive and majestic, moose are a cherished wildlife icon of North America. 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.

Moose are being hurt by overheating, disease, and tick infestation—all tied to warming temperatures. Moose are in jeopardy across the United States, from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine; to Minnesota and Michigan; and even Montana.

Overheating: Heat affects moose directly. These big mammals require cool climates to thrive, and summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to disease. When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than foraging for nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy. Many New Hampshire cows have been under the weight necessary to successfully bear calves the last few years and are producing fewer calves than they did a decade ago. Many biologists are concerned that they will have a difficult time adapting to climatic variability.

Too Many Ticks: Warmer winters have also caused spikes in the tick populations, further devastating the moose population. Ticks leave moose weakened from blood loss, and many die of anemia. Ticks also leave moose more vulnerable to exposure in the winter after their attempt to rub off the ticks leaves them with hairless patches. The New Hampshire moose population has plummeted by more than 40 percent in the last decade from more than 7,500 moose to just 4,000 today, and biologists attribute some of this decline to increasing parasite loads influenced by shorter winters caused by climate change.

Changes in the Earth’s climate directly threaten two treasured wildlife-associated pastimes in northern woods—wildlife-watching and recreational hunting. Wildlife watching and hunting are not just recreational pastimes; they are also a major contributor to the local economy, with wildlife-associated expenditures bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars to states like New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, declining moose numbers have lead to a 80 percent reduction in moose hunting permits, down from 675 in 2007 to just 124 in 2014. As the moose population drops, the recreational activities and associated revenue surrounding the species is sure to follow.

To ensure the survival of cherished wildlife species like the moose, policies and practices are needed to address climate change. This includes reducing carbon pollution as well as adopting climate-smart approaches to wildlife conservation. We must make a serious effort to reduce carbon pollution at every level—from the choices we make in our households to the policies we adopt as a nation. America needs to embrace the development of responsible clean energy, such as wind and solar. And we must prepare for and manage the impacts of climate change to conserve our wildlife resources.

Fun Fact

Moose are quite amphibious—they can run at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour on land and paddle through water at six miles an hour.

Sources

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

National Geographic

NatureServe Explorer

Nature Works

New Hampshire Fish and Game

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

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