The moose (North America) or elk (Europe), Alces alces, is the largest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a "twig-like" configuration.
Confusingly, the elk in North America refers to the second largest deer species, Cervus canadensis, also known as the wapiti. Early European explorers in North America, who were familiar with the smaller red deer of Europe, believed that the much larger North American animal looked more like the European elk (i.e. moose) they were familiar with than a deer, so they named it as elk.
In North America, the moose range includes almost all of Canada, most of central and western Alaska, much of New England and upstate New York, the upper Rocky Mountains, Northeastern Minnesota, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Isolated moose populations have been verified as far south as the mountains of Utah and Colorado. In 1978 a few breeding pairs were introduced in western Colorado, and the state's moose population is now more than 1,000.
In Europe, moose are found in large numbers throughout Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States. They are also widespread through Russia. Small populations remain in Poland (Biebrza Nat. Park) and Belarus.
Moose were successfully introduced on Newfoundland in 1904 where they are now the dominant ungulate, and somewhat less successfully on Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Ten moose were also introduced in Fiordland, New Zealand in 1910, but they were thought to have died off. Nevertheless, there have been reported sightings that were thought to be false until moose hair samples were found by a New Zealand scientist in 2002. In 2008 moose (or elk) were reintroduced in to the Scottish Highlands.
|European moose||A. a. alces||Northern Europe.|
|Eastern moose||A. a. americana||Eastern Canada and northeastern United States.|
|Western moose||A. a. anderson||Western Canada.|
|Siberian moose||A. a. cameloides||Eastern Siberia, Mongolia, and Manchuria.|
|Alaska moose||A. a. gigas||Alaska and Yukon.|
|Shiras moose||A. a. shirasi||Wyoming|
The male's antlers grow as cylindrical beams projecting on each side of the head at right angles to the midline of the skull, and then fork. The lower prong of this fork may be either simple, or divided into two or three tines, with some flattening.
In the North Siberian elk (A. a. bedfordiae), the posterior division of the main fork divides into three tines, with no distinct flattening. In the common elk (A. a. alces) this branch usually expands into a broad palmation, with one large tine at the base, and a number of smaller snags on the free border. There is, however, a Scandinavian breed of the common elk in which the antlers are simpler, and recall those of the East Siberian animals.
The palmation appears to be more marked in North American moose (Alces alces americanus) than in the typical Scandinavian elk.
The male will drop its antlers after the mating season and conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will then regrow in the spring. Antlers take three to five months to fully develop, making them one of the fastest growing animal organs. They initially have a layer of skin called felt which is shed once the antlers become fully grown. Immature bulls may not shed their antlers for the winter, but retain them until the following spring.
If a bull moose is castrated, either by accidental or chemical means, he will quickly shed his current set of antlers and then immediately begin to grow a new set of misshapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again. The distinctive looking appendages (often referred to as "devil's antlers") are the source of several myths and legends among many groups of Inuit as well as several other tribes of indigenous peoples of North America.
On average, an adult moose stands 1.8–2.1 m (6–7 ft) high at the shoulder. Males weigh 380–720 kg (850–1580 pounds) and females weigh 270–360 kg (600–800 pounds). The largest confirmed size for this species was a bull shot at the Yukon River in September 1897 weighing 1618 kg (1,800 lb) and was 233 cm (92 in) tall at the shoulder. The largest of all is the Alaskan subspecies (Alces alces gigas), which can stand over 2.1 m (7 ft) at the shoulder, with a span across the antlers of 1.8 m (6 ft). Typically, however, the antlers of a mature specimen are between 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and 1.5 m (4.9 ft).
Mating occurs in September and October. During this times both sexes will call to each other. Males produces heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away while females produce a wail-like sound. Males will fight for access to females. They will either assess which is larger, and the smaller bull retreats, or they may engage in battles that can turn violent. Female moose have an eight month gestation period. Most litters consist of a single calf; however, twins are not uncommon and triplets are known to occur. The young will stay with the mother until the next young are born.
A full-grown moose has few enemies, but a pack of wolves can still pose a threat, especially to females with calves. Siberian Tigers and Grizzly Bear are also known to prey on moose, although bears are more likely to take over a wolf kill than to hunt moose on their own.
In some areas, moose are the primary source of food for wolves. Moose usually flee upon detecting wolves. Wolves usually follow moose at a distance of 100-400 meters, occasionally at a distance of 2-3 km. Attacks from wolves against young moose may last seconds, though sometimes it can be drawn out for days with adults. Sometimes, wolves will chase moose into shallow streams or onto frozen rivers, where their mobility is greatly impeded. Moose will sometimes stand their ground and defend themselves by charging at the wolves or lashing out at them with their powerful hooves. Wolves typically kill moose by tearing at their haunches and perineum, causing massive blood loss. Occasionally, a wolf may immobilise a moose by biting its sensitive nose, the pain of which can paralyze a moose.
Cadmium levels are high in Finnish elk liver and kidneys, with the result that consumption of these organs from elk more than one year old is prohibited in Finland. Cadmium intake has been found to be elevated amongst all consumers of elk meat, though the elk meat was found to contribute only slightly to the daily cadmium intake. However the consumption of moose liver or kidneys significantly increased cadmium intake, with the study revealing that heavy consumers of moose organs have a relatively narrow safety margin below the levels which would probably cause adverse health effects.
Dr. Valerius Geist, who emigrated to Canada from the Soviet Union wrote in his 1999 book Moose: Behaviour, Ecology, Conservation:
A moose's body structure, with a large heavy body suspended on long spindly legs, makes these animals particularly dangerous when hit by motor vehicles. Such collisions are often fatal for both the moose and motorist. This has led to the development of a vehicle test in Scandinavia referred to as the "moose test" (Älgtest in Swedish, Elchtest in German). Generally, upon impact the bumper of the car will break the moose's legs. The main body of the moose will then collide with the windscreen, often with disastrous effect to both motorist and animal. In a collision of this nature, a car's airbags may not deploy or be of much use if they do.
Moose warning signs are used on roads in regions where there is a danger of collision with the animal. The triangular warning signs common in Sweden, Norway and Finland have become coveted souvenirs among the many German tourists traveling in these countries, and authorities have had to issue warnings that it is dangerous and criminal to remove these signs.
Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten estimated in January 2008 that some 13,000 moose had died in collisions with Norwegian trains since 2000. The state agency in charge of railroad infrastructure (Jernbaneverket) plans to spend 80 million Norwegian kroner to reduce collision rate in the future by fencing the railways, clearing vegetation from near the tracks, and providing alternative snow-free feeding places for the animals elsewhere.
In the Canadian province of New Brunswick, collisions with moose are frequent enough that all new highways have fences to prevent moose from accessing the road, similar to how it has long been done in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Demonstratively, Highway 7 between Fredericton and Saint John, which has one of the highest frequencies of moose collisions in the province, does not have these fences, although it is extremely well signed.