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Homeschooling-Lessons of Opportunity: The Moose Skull

Updated on August 4, 2016

Exploratory Hike

My family and I live on a bush lot at the very edge of the electrical power grid. There are cottages and hunt camps back in our neck of the woods, but we are the only human year round residents. Wildlife is abundant and the opportunities to explore and hike are limited only by our time, strength and endurance.

My oldest son and I went for a hike to investigate one of the local overgrown logging roads. No one has travelled there in several years, so we had no idea what we would find. You might be surprised at the adventures that exist in your own neighbourhood, even if you are not living in the bush.

This logging road led to another one I didn't know about that led almost in behind our acreage. On our way back off to the side I noticed some bones and turned aside to investigate. Turned out to be a moose skull with a scattering of other bones. We decided for the time being to leave it where it lay.

During the rest of our walk between talking with my oldest my mind churned with ideas of what we might do with our discovery. What lessons or information could be drawn from a moose skull?


Retrieval

On returning to our cottage, I tantalized our youngest (our only remaining school age child) with the story of finding the moose skull. I think he was interested in going to get it, whether he'd learn anything from it or not. What ten year old boy would not find that interesting?

Wesley and I returned to the site and gathered all the bones we could carry. Besides the skull, we collected a number of ribs, vertebrae as well as a couple undetermined fragments. All the way back with our prize, we discussed trying to figure out how old it was and what happened to it.

This was going to take a bit of research on the Internet. First we had to figure out whether our goals were even attainable. Then we would make some educated guesses.

Moose (Alces alces)

These magnificent animals are the largest members of the deer family. Moose are huge with long slender legs. The bulls can weigh up to 800 kg (1800 lbs).

They are often seen near water and are strong swimmers. Not only do they eat vegetation on land but they can dive up to five metres deep to browse on lake bottoms.

For more information about moose the following links will be helpful.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/moose/

http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/kids/animal-facts/moose.asp

http://www.hww.ca/en/species/mammals/moose.html


Aging a Moose Skeleton


The key to figuring out the age of a moose is its teeth. Every single resource we could find on aging a moose by its teeth involved the lower jaw. If you look at the pictures of our moose skull, you know that's one part we don't have. The factors used in determining age though still hold true for the upper teeth. The results won't be as accurate though.

As rank amateurs, we were lucky. Our skull has important development markers that do allow us to make an educated estimate.

In the photo below, I added lines and numbers to distinguish the separate teeth on the upper jaw. Notice that none of the teeth show much wear. The first four teeth are fully positioned while the fifth tooth has almost joined them. The sixth tooth is buried in the gum, in fact, I didn't even see them at first. In the picture the arrow is pointing to the hole where the tooth will emerge. It rattles around in there if you give the skull a shake.

What is important here is that moose have all their teeth by the time they are a year and a half old. This one does not. Tooth number five is close but number six hasn't even started to come in. From this we estimate that our moose was a youngster somewhere between six months and a year old. As an amateur, I'm pleased with that guess.

Not only that we were able to determine a plausible cause of death. The lower jaw missing and the widely scattered bones suggest that our moose was taken down by a pack of wolves. We hear them yowling at night sometimes.

Three winters ago we had record snow accumulations in this area. For a significant part of the winter the snow was more than three feet deep. It would have been a hard winter for a young moose. It isn't too much of a stretch to think that this would have happened that winter. The condition of the bones are consistent with that scenario.

This was a fascinating study and not just for our son Wesley.

Some of our sources are listed below:

http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/mammals/mooseage/aging.htm

http://www.all-about-moose.com/can-you-tell-a-moose-age-by-its-teeth.html

Living Close to Large Animals

We live in moose country. The tracks in the photo below were just down the road from our home. I did see the moose that made them. I wasn't close enough to take a picture. During the winter there were tracks on the road right in front of where we live. Some day I might get a picture I can add here but I would never recommend approaching such a powerful animal.

An angry or frightened moose is a very dangerous animal. A bull moose's antlers speak for themselves. Not so obvious is the fact that a moose can kick hard enough to snap a five inch log. They can do an impressive amount of damage to an automobile. I wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of one of those beatings.

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