Moose derive their new world name from the Algonkian word Mooswa, or twig eater. In Europe and Asia they're known as elk. Moose range throughout northern latitudes in North America, Europe, and Eurasia. They're found in wooded lands and mountain ranges with ample water and vegetation. Moose (Alces alces) are the largest member of the Deer Family (Cervidae) and are ungulates, a classification for hoofed animals that includes antelope and horses. Broader definitions of ungulates include aardvarks, hogs, and elephants.
Adult males (bulls) can weigh 1,500 pounds and stand over 6' at the shoulder. Males are distinguished from other Cervidaes by their palmated antlers, which can reach 6' wide and weigh 90 pounds. Adult females (cows) are smaller, averaging 700 - 800 pounds and 5-6' at the shoulder. They do not grow antlers.
Both sexes have a distinct flap of skin that dangles from their neck called a bell. It's more pronounced in males than females, and its purpose for each is debated. Some believe that its size may indicate a male's fitness to a female, serving as secondary sexual criteria to antlers.
Moose Antlers: Bull moose antlers primarily serve the animal in mating and territorial battles. Antlers begin growing in the spring, and reach full size by late summer. Antlers are covered in a living velvet tissue that supplies nutrients through a dense network of blood vessels. This velvet tissue is scraped off in late summer once the antler has solidified underneath. Moose will shed their antlers in the winter to conserve energy once their primary purpose has been served.
Diet and Digestion: Moose are browsers, meaning they procure food from the leaves and stems of plants (vs. grazers, that feed on ground level vegetation like grass). Browsing is advantageous in the winter when primary food sources are covered in snow. Moose favor marsh and aquatic plants, but will consume pine cones, stripped bark and leaves in more wooded environments. They have a four-chamber stomach to process this fibrous matter, and are ruminates - which describes a form of mechanical digestion that involves chewing cud, or partially digested, regurgitated food.
Interesting Traits: Despite their bulky build moose are exceptionally fast runners; they can reach 35 mph in short bursts and maintain a steady 20 mph trot. Moose spend a significant time in water and are proficient swimmers. They can swim for several miles across lakes, and hold their breath up to 30 seconds. Moose have poor eyesight and are believed color blind, but make up for this with strong smell and hearing. Poor eyesight contributes to dangerous human encounters.
Life Cycle - Gestation: Females begin mating as early as two years old. After an eight month gestation they'll give birth to one or two calves in early summer that weigh around 30 pounds. Calves grow quickly and can keep pace with adults in just a few weeks. Calves typically remain with their mother until calves are born the following year. Moose are generally solitary, though siblings may remain together for a short time after leaving the protection of their mother. Moose are active throughout the day, peaking at dawn and dusk. Most of this time is spent feeding in or around water.
Mating: The mating rut runs late September - November, highlighted by deep bellows and spectacular (albeit violent) battles between competing males. Once mating is complete, the sexes go their separate ways.
Predation: Moose face varying degrees of predation depending on their location. In northern and Scandinavian regions moose are hunted by wolves and brown bear. Young and winter-weakened animals are particularly vulnerable. Mountain lion may hunt moose in their continental US range, but have only limited success with younger animals. Moose in the eastern US face virtually no predation, though automobiles pose a regular threat.