Moose

8121060387_0ce369a0e1_z two moose

Photo by: Jerry Mercier           Photo by: Team Flyers

Species: Moose

Scientific name:Alces alces

Status: common

Description: Moose are large ungulates (hoofed mammal) that are quite distinct looking. They have chocolate brown fur that fades to lighter, more grayish colours on their legs. They have long, horse-like heads, slim long legs that end in a hoof, small tail, humped nose and long flexible upper lip that overhangs the lower lip. Most moose also have a hanging piece of fur-covered skin (called a bell) that hangs from their throat. The fur of a moose gets thicker along the spine during the winter months. This is a crepuscular species, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk-due to their colour, it makes them exceptionally hard to see on the road. Males are the only ones that produce antlers in this species, which can be quite large and magnificent. Moose antlers are shovel-like in appearance and are pale/white in colour. Antlers being to develop mid-summer, where they are soft, velvety and have extensive blood vessels running through them (see 2nd picture). During the summer, the bulls (male moose) will rub their velvety antlers against tree trunks. Antlers do not develop into the “typical” hard bony antlers until late August-September. Antlers are important for mating, used to fight for mates and attacked females (females like larger antlers), but are not necessary the whole year and will be shed in November to re-grow the next summer.

Habitat: Moose are a “northern” species and are found in coniferous forests (e.g., pine, spruce, etc.). This species tolerates cold well, but heat can cause issues, so northern climates are where they prefer to reside. This species will commonly spend hot summer days in water, where they are quite comfortable. Surprisingly, this species is a good swimmer.

Breeding: The breeding season, called the rut, starts in mid-September. The male will compete for a female, and may take multiple females as mates during a season. Females will give birth in May/June, after 8 months of gestation. Females can give birth to 1-3 calves, although triplets are rare. Calves weigh 10-16 kg at birth and look like a tiny copy of its mother. Females will make a den for the calves. These dens are just an impression in grass, somewhere sheltered, where they will leave the calves during the day. At birth, calves are well protected and out of reach of predators for the first few days. This species grows the fastest  gaining ½-2 kg a day after birth. At a few days old, moose calves can outrun a human and can swim in the water. Calves will remain with their mother until the following spring and then will be forced to leave by their mother.

Diet: Moose are herbivores, meaning they eat only vegetation. Up to 80% of their diet is plant material, mostly twigs and branches. Adult moose can eat 15-20 kg of plant material every day. The type of plant material that is eaten depends on the season. In the winter moose will often be browsing (eating) twigs and branches from balsam fir, poplar, birch, willows and other deciduous (leafy) trees. In the summer, moose have a broader diet by including plants and water plants such as lilies.

Threats to species: Due to their size, moose have fewer predators than other ungulates. Their main predators are bears and wolves. In Ontario, wolves are the main predator of moose. They can kill both calves and adults, but adults represent a much greater risk of getting hurt during the hunt. To hunt adult moose, wolves will use their pack hunting to take down moose. A number of parasites and pathogens are affecting moose populations including ticks, tapeworms and a lethal parasite called meningeal worm. Meningeal worm is a parasite specific to white-tailed deer, but is not lethal to them. Where white-tailed deer and moose populations overlap, the worm will also infect moose, but the results are lethal and the moose will die. Moose are also a big game species and are hunting during specific hunting seasons. Moose are increasing hit with cars, with high fatalities to the moose and humans

Threat to humans: Moose are commonly hit by vehicles. This is fatal not only to the moose but most often to the human that hit the moose. Because of their colour (brown) they are very hard to see during dusk and dawn (when they are most active), so if you live in moose country, keep your eyes peeled, drive slowly and be very aware of your surroundings.

Fun facts:

Moose can dive more than 5 m to get food at the bottom of a lake.

The moose is the largest living deer in the world.

Moose can be infested with up to 200,000 ticks during the winter-major cause of death in the winter due to blood loss.

Moose are athletes in their own right-they have been known to run as fast as 55 km/h, swim for several hours, dive deep, and can stay submerged for up to 1 minute.

Sources:

Hinterland Who’s Who- http://www.hww.ca/en/species/mammals/moose.html

Eder, Tamara, and Kennedy, Gregory. 2011. Mammals of Canada. Lorne Pine Publishing. Edmonton, Alberta.

 

 

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