Today is Moose Day!
“Rocky and Bullwinkle” fictional characters that premiered on television from 1959 – 1964 where Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose go on adventures and try to outwit Pottsylvanian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. I understand, totally anthropomorphic, but these cartoons often gave us our first introduction to wildlife and continued to do so with many reboot attempts and spinoff movies. It was even streamlined on Amazon. As Project WILD state “Humor may be one of the most profound and subtle tools in influencing people’s attitudes” and a Smithsonian article delves into “How Bullwinkle Taught Kids Sophisticated Political Satire”. All of this over the largest member of the deer family – the MOOSE!
Moose, the common name from the Algonquin means “eater of twigs”. The moose is a symbol of strength and power, bravery and courage. Its scientific name is Alces alces, although there are four distinct subspecies recognized in North America. Moose are found from Alaska through most of Canada to the Atlantic coast. The eastern moose, Alces alces americana, is found in northeastern United States, eastern Canada and westward to the Great Lakes.
Known for their size the largest moose in North America are found in Alaska. I can attest to that, not really.. I have only seen one live moose and that was in Alaska, but someone in our group said its rack was as big as a Volkswagen! The males, bulls, weigh 600 to 1,400 pounds and their antlers are palmately, open-hand shaped, branched and spread more than 5 feet across, they can weigh more than 60 pounds. The male calves first develop “button” antlers and the yearlings “spikes”. The larger antlers are found on older and healthier bulls. Females weigh up to 750 lbs.
Antlers begin growing on bulls March to early April and are fully grown by August when the velvet is shed. The breeding season, rut, runs from September through October, this is the time when you are most likely to see moose. During the breeding season sparring matches occur between males often resulting in injury and sometimes death. Antlers will be shed beginning in December.
When bulls are in rut they will utter a series of deep grunts that can be heard great distances. They will also scrape the ground with their front hooves and create 20-40″ long “rut pits” or “wallows” that they will urinate in. Females are attracted to these areas and the males use these pits to tell other males of their presence.
Moose have a strong sense of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight. They are fast runners and have been clocked at 35-40 miles per hour. Due to their speed and sheer size – they stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder and have 3-4 foot long legs, both the cows and bulls should not be approached and only admired from a distance.
In late May or June, females, usually in their second year, give birth to one or two calves that weigh 20-25 lbs, by fall they will weigh almost 300 lbs. Males are larger than females and have a more pronounced flap of skin beneath their chin, called a bell. Males also have a black face and females a brown face. Their tracks are similar to deer, other ungulates (hoofed animals), in that they are heart-shaped, but are larger measuring 4-6 7/8″ long and 3 1/2 – 5 3/4″ wide.
There are no predators in New England, besides humans, that can take a healthy adult moose. In other areas they are preyed upon by grizzly bears and wolves, but a healthy wolf is capable of fending off an entire wolf pack. Moose can live up to 20 years, but they are susceptible to parasites, disease, malnutrition and collisions with automobiles. A parasite, the meningeal worm, attacks the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and is deadly to moose.
In Massachusetts they historically roamed the forest. Connecticut had reports of moose in the early 1900s – 1930s with the first photo documentation from Ashford, CT in 1956. In both Massachusetts and Connecticut it appears the number began increasing in the 1980s with the first moose-vehicle accident in CT in 1995. Current population in CT is estimated at over 100. Since young moose have been documented to travel over 100 miles in a five-week period, population dynamics in surrounding states impact CT.
Moose are herbivores, like deer they lack upper incisors, and strip off twigs, buds and bark from trees. In the summer, they seek relief from flies and mosquitoes by spending time in wetland areas and there feeding off semi-aquatic vegetation. They also submerge their horse-like head underwater to obtain sodium-rich aquatic plants. Winters are spent in drier mixed hardwood-conifer forests. Beaver ponds or areas disturbed by fire and logging provide good habitat and a place for them to graze on tender plants and grasses. On average a moose can eat 40-50 lbs. of food every day. Moose are mainly solitary and are most active at dawn and dusk.
If you are lucky enough to see a moose in Connecticut make sure to let the CT DEEP know!
Just for Kids – Moose on the Loose
Wildlife Fact Sheet – Moose
Living with Wild Moose in Massachusetts