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Moose - the biggest member of the deer family

Updated on August 21, 2013
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The moose is largest member of the deer family. Four subspecies of moose are recognized in North America. The Shiras or Wyoming moose is the variety found in Utah and is the smallest of the four subspecies. Mature Shiras moose bulls weigh as much as 800 pounds.

Historical records indicate moose were not present in Utah prior to the early 1900s. Moose naturally immigrated into Utah from Idaho and Wyoming. The first recorded sighting of a moose in Utah was in 1906 at the head of Spanish Fork Canyon. Sparse reports over the next few decades from the north slope of the Uintas indicate that a population gradually established itself.

Alces alces subspecies

Subspecies name
Common Name
Distribution
gigas
Alaskan moose
Alaska
shirasi
Wyoming or Shiras moose
Western US and Canada
andersoni
Western moose
Canada
americana
Eastern moose
Eastern US and Canada

Rut or breeding season

In Utah, the moose rut begins in early September and lasts for several weeks, peaking in late September. Both cows and bulls vocalize and are very aggressive during the breeding season

Male moose are called bulls, females are cows and babies are calves. During the rut bulls will call to attract mates. If they run into another bull they will fight for the right to breed. After mating the bulls will go back to their bachelor lifestyle and even though they may feed in the same areas as cows and calves, will usually ignore them.

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Gestation for moose is approximately eight months. Calving peaks in late May. Cows usually give birth to one or two young. Calves grow rapidly and achieve sufficient size by five months of age to endure deep snow and cold weather conditions. Moose are good mothers and will defend their calves violently. Never try to approach a baby moose.

What do moose eat?

Moose like to eat young branches and leaves and depend on a diet of shrubs and young deciduous trees for much of the year. They are often found near river bottoms, ponds, and lakes where they can find an abundance of shrubby plants. Moose use thick pine forests for shelter in the winter and for shade during the summer.

In the video below you can see how this moose strips the leaves off the willow branches (starting at about the 1:00 mark).

Winter weather and deep snow doesn’t bother moose as much as other animals. Their long legs and heavy black fur allows them to live in some of the coldest and snowiest climates in the world. In Utah, moose generally live at higher elevations throughout the year, although some moose are observed at lower elevation habitats even in summer. Moose are active both day and night, but peak activity occurs near dawn and dusk.

Fun Fact: Supersize it

Because moose are such big animals it just stands to reason they need to eat a lot. The average moose will eat around 75 pounds of food every day.

How many Big Macs would you need to order to eat as much as a moose?

An average Big Mac weighs about 1/2 pound. You would need to eat 150 Big Macs to equal the 75 pounds that a moose eats every day.

What eats moose?

Because of their size, not many predators will take on a moose. In the spring moose calves are sometimes eaten by bears and coyotes, but the only wild predator that can catch and take down an adult moose is a wolf pack.

Wolves will isolate an individual moose and use teamwork to keep the moose running until it becomes too exhausted to flee. Once they catch or corner the moose, they will cripple it by severing the leg ligaments. Wolf packs will begin to feed on the downed moose as soon as it can no longer defend itself.

Huge headgear

Male moose grow the largest antlers of any mammal and use the antlers in dominance displays and fighting behavior during the rut or breeding season.

Moose antlers are different because they have a wide flat palm with finger-like points growing around the edges.

Some people think a moose bell helps water drip off a moose's head.
Some people think a moose bell helps water drip off a moose's head.

What is the moose bell for?

The flap of skin that hangs down from moose throats is called a bell. Both males and females have bells, but bells on males are usually longer. The bells can grow as long as ten inches.

There is much debate and little fact when it comes to determining the purpose of the bell. Some scientists believe the bell helps water drain from moose heads after they have been feeding in the water.

Others think it is used by breeding males to intimidate other males. Still others say it helps attract female moose for mating.

Fun fact: Moose would be olympic swimmers

Moose usually live near lakes, rivers or marshes. they are very good swimmers. In fact, if moose could compete in the olympics they would bring home the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle.

A moose would also beat world record sprinter Usain Bolt in a 100 meter race.

How fast are moose?

Competitor
100 Meter freestyle
100 meter dash
Moose
6 MPH
35 MPH
Michael Phelps
4.7 MPH
 
Usain Bolt
 
23.35 MPH

Nature has a way of adapting to make things work better. A good example of this is the difference between the subspecies of moose in North America. It gets much colder in Alaska than it does in Utah and the Alaskan moose is much bigger (seven feet tall and 1500 pounds) than the Shiras moose (six feet tall and about 800 pounds). There’s a good reason for this.

An animal eats to make energy in the form of heat. This heat is produced in the body core and lost through the body surface. A moose with a larger core area will make more heat, but will it also lose more heat because it’s bigger?

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Activity - Why are animals in colder climates bigger?

Let’s use a simple cube to answer that question. The volume of a cube can be determined by multiplying the height by the width by the depth. Thus, a cube one inch square would have a volume of 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. The surface area of the same cube would be found by multiplying the length of one side by the height of that side, by the total number of sides (6). Thus a one inch cube would have a surface area of 1 x 1 x 6 = 6. This gives us a ratio of 6 square inches of surface for each 1 cubic inch of volume. If we divide 6 by 1 we get 6 or a ratio of 6:1.

A two inch cube would have a volume of 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. The surface area of the same cube would be 2 x 2 x 6 = 24. This yields a ratio of 24 square inches of surface to 8 cubic inches of volume. This can be written as 24:8 by dividing 24 by 8 we get 3 or a ratio of 3:1.

Thus we see that a bigger cube has twice as much volume (the part that makes heat) compared to surface area (the part where heat is lost). If this cube were a moose, it would stay much warmer than the smaller cube.

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