(Alces alces)

Moose, called elk in Europe, are the largest member of the deer family. Standing or swimming in lakes and ponds, they feed on many kinds of aquatic plants. Moose are retiring animals and generally avoid human contact. However, they can be unpredictable and dangerous. Cows with their calves are irritable and fiercely protective. Rutting bulls have been known to charge people, horses, or even a car.
Size: Males are much larger than females. A full-grown bull moose (male) weighs from 800 to 1200 pounds. The smaller adult cow (female) is about 2/3 as large (600 to 800 lbs.). Moose stand 5 to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder and are 7.5 to 10 feet in length. They have a short tail, 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

Characteristics: Moose are easy to recognize by their large size, long dark to reddish brown to black color hair, high humped shoulders, long pale legs, and a huge, pendulous muzzle. Moose have a large dewlap, called by some a pendant 'bell', under their throat, and large ears.

Food: A moose eats an average of 44 pounds of wet forage a day, but this amount increases to near 60 pounds in the spring, and a whopping 130 pounds daily in the autumn. They feast on plant growth in a lake or swamp. Moose love water lilies and will wade far out into a swampy pond to munch on them. Then they often leave the water, to find secluded wooded areas and escape insects, and to browse on plants and trees. Moose sometimes bend a sapling over so that it can nibble its tender upper leaves. In winter months, they rely more on their browse of woody plants that includes twigs, buds, and bark of willow, balsam, aspen, dogwood, birch, cherry, and virburnum. 
Gender: The bull carries large palmlike, flattened antlers that grow during the spring and summer, attain full growth by August, then are shed each winter. A bull's antler spread is usually four to five feet wide (record is 81"). Their antlers are shed in December or January. The cow moose has no antlers. In breeding season (the fall rut), both sexes give out a cow-like moo. These vocalizations include the bull's loud but shorter-length, rising-at-the-end bellow and the cow's call, which ends in a cough like moo-agh.
Habitat: Moose hang out in wet, swampy areas or in aspen and willow thickets and spruce forests. During summer months, they are most active at dawn and dusk. Several may gather near streams and lakes to feed on willows, water lilies, and other aquatic vegetation. When black flies torment them, moose can nearly submerge themselves or roll in a wallow to acquire a protective mud coating. 
Herding: Moose are largely solitary animals or associate in small groups most of the year. Migrating up and down mountain slopes seasonally, moose may herd or 'yard-up' during deep winter. Together they pack down snow to move around at the lower elevations.
Locomotion: In spite of its huge size and ungainly appearance, an adult moose can run through a forest at speeds up to thirty-five miles an hour. Its legs are long, allowing the moose to stand in shallow water or move easily through even two-foot snowfall. When it does run, its lifts each leg straight up, making its gait almost comical. But the weird leg action has its purpose; it allows the animal to lift its leg easily out of a muddy lake or stream bottom. Their walking stride is 3.5 to 5.5 feet, but it lengthens to more than 8 feet when they trot or run. Good swimmers, moose can move through water at speeds of 6 mph for up to 2 hours.
Moose also have large dew claws (vestigial hooves) on the rear of each hind leg, which keep the heavy animal from sinking into a muddy ooze too deeply. When it feeds in water, moose show no fear of putting their head underwater. It will dip its head completely beneath the surface to get at succulent roots. Moose are strong swimmers and have been known to dive underwater in order to yank up plants from the bottom. They can remain underwater for a full minute before coming up for air.
Reproduction: During the rut or mating season (mid-September to late October), bull moose roll in a muddy, urine-scented wallow. Cows will also roll in it. Bulls do not gather a harem, but instead stay with one cow for about a week and then with another. Bulls thrash brush and bark with their antlers, marking their territory. Occasionally bulls will battle, but generally threat displays prompt one to withdraw. If horns interlock, both may die. Cows usually first breed when they are 2 1/2 years old, but may breed as younger yearlings if they are on good range.
After a gestation of 8 months, one or two calves are born. In the picture above the cow has two calves. On the left, you can see one calf. Weak at birth, the gangling calves remain hidden and inactive for several days. They are light colored but their coat quickly turns dark brown. Unlike most other calves in the deer family, they don't have spots. Within a couple of weeks the calves can swim; at about 6 months they are weaned. The calves remain with their mother for a year, but she drives them away the following spring, making room for her new offspring to arrive.
Range: In the continental United States, moose are found only in the northern Rocky Mountains, the northern tier of states bordering the Great Lakes, and northern New England. Hundreds of thousand of moose, however, populate Canada and Alaska.
Predators: Moose swim well and run easily even through snow, and they also possess formidable weapons in their legs and hooves. Few predators can successfully challenge a healthy, adult moose. Wolves and bears do prey on the calves and the aged and weak.
More Information: You can learn more about moose at these locations.
Everything you always wanted to know about moose!
This site has a description of moose, their habitat, behavior, and more.
Moose Facts
Learn little known facts about moose, their evolution, classification, and history.
Similar site is Moose Fact Sheet
Moose Stories from Fairbanks, Alaska
Here you can read several true stories and a few fiction ones that were written by Alaskan students about their encounters with moose.
Check out MooseWorld! We're the moose picture of the month for August 2000!

Try a webquest activity.


Note: All photographs taken with a digital camera in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (July 1999) & Northern Idaho (2001).
Developed by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 6/99. Updated 4/02.