This week we ask: What large member of the deer family is a fast runner, an excellent swimmer, and can be found across North America and Eurasia?
This past weekend, I was hiking the Pine Cobble trail in Williamstown with my hiking class from my school, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). As we were resting on the side of the trail for a bit, a man came jogging downhill with his dog. He cheerfully said hello to everyone, and after introducing the dog as his 7-month old puppy named Luna, he shared about how he had seen a moose earlier that morning near the trailhead. I automatically felt a surge of excitement about being in a place that moose had visited and simultaneous disappointment about missing the sighting myself. While I absolutely adore moose, I have never seen one in person, and would very much like the opportunity to see one soon.
In my humble opinion, moose are super neat for a multitude of reasons. I am very excited to share these reasons with you, our readers!
All Around the World
Moose can be found all around the Northern hemisphere, from North America to Eurasia. There are about 8 subspecies of moose with four subspecies in both regions, although the number is somewhat debated.
In Europe, moose are referred to as elk. In North America, we call these beautiful creatures “moose” because it stems from the Algonquian word “moosh” which roughly translates to “stripper of bark” or “eater of twigs.” That is exactly what moose do, so personally I think moose is a perfectly fitting term. (The animal we call “elk” in North America is different from the moose-version of “elk” in Europe.)
The Biggest Deer
Moose are the largest members of the deer family, Cervidae. Their scientific name is Alces alces, and they can range from 5 to 6.5 feet in height. Males, called bulls, have been known to grow antlers that are just as large – up to 6 feet in width. Imagine carrying an object the size of your body height on top of your head!
Underneath the moose’s neck is a dewlap, or section of floppy skin, called a bell. For a flap of skin, it has tons of utility. During mating season, bulls urinate a puddle on the ground and then splash the urine onto their bell with their hooves to attract a mate.
Mating Season: A Buck’s Time to Shine
When the weather starts to turn in early fall, mating season starts for the moose. While the bucks do their best to attract a mate by spreading their urine both on and around themselves, female moose (called cows) prefer to flirt with a mating call. Once the deed is done successfully between September and October, cows typically gestate for 7-8 months, or about 230 days. Fun fact: twins are a pretty common occurrence for moose!
Calves are born around May and June with a lighter color reminiscent of a cappuccino compared to the dark brown to black color of adults. Bulls go about their merry way until the next mating season so cows raise their calves as single moms. Calves stick with their mom learning all sorts of helpful and cool life skills until the next mating season, when they must depart from their mom and make their own way in the world.
A Lover of Land and Water
Moose are quite adaptable! They are primarily terrestrial dwellers and tend to peruse their environment for shrubbery like leaves and bark, pinecones, moss, lichen, and snails to eat. Conifers are a particular favorite, and they also have an affinity for mineral licks. Sometimes change is necessary though, so in the summertime moose like to take a dip into the water and snack on some nice aquatic plants. They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for 30-50 seconds!
On land, moose can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour when trotting, and their hooves have specially evolved to keep their enormous body weight supported in muddy and snowy conditions, when they would otherwise sink into the mush.
Just A Few Life Things
Everybody has something to be on guard against, and for moose that would be bears, wolves, and hunters. Moose avoid predation from bears and wolves by devising a defensive hiding strategy and then bursting out and lethally attacking said bear or wolf with their front legs if needed.
If a moose escapes natural predation, they can live between 5 and 13 years, depending on additional factors, like the rate of hunting in their neighborhood.
In recent years, attention has been drawn to the ways that climate change is affecting moose populations. Rising average temperatures can throw the moose’s phenological cycle (essentially, how they go about life based on the weather and season) off balance. The increased temperatures caused by global warming have also been leading to a tick population boom, and ticks simply love to attach to moose. Both adult moose and calves have been found with hundreds of ticks attached to them, which has sometimes led to anemia and even death from a lack of replenished blood supply.
Luckily, there is hope for this issue, and all others affected by global warming! At Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, we work to raise awareness about nature-based solutions to climate change that lead to a stabilized climate. You can click here to learn more about these regenerative solutions on our website: https://bio4climate.org/how-life-saves-the-earth/
With gratitude as big as a moose,