Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE MOOSE is the largest member of the deer family found in North America. The total length of an average male moose is about 100 inches: its tail is short, only a little more than 2 inches in length; height at shoulder, about 72 inches. Both male and female stand higher at the shoulders than at the rump and both have a general brown coloration. Their muzzles are broad. The males and some females have a characteristic growth of skin and hair called the "bell" hanging from the throat. (See illustration.) The antlers of this species are broad and palmated and a good pair has a spread of about 56 inches, although antlers considerably larger have been recorded. The females are decidedly inferior in size and are without antlers.

As with other members of the deer family, the antlers of the moose are grown during the late spring and summer months and are covered with velvet, i. e., skin, while they are growing. As soon as they have reached their full growth, this velvet dries up and is rubbed off, leaving large completed bony antlers. The growing and shedding of such large antlers each successive season appears wasteful; however, this is a character of the deer family.

When one bull moose hears another crashing through the timber at the mating season be evidently considers it as a challenge and proceeds to battle. These battles may occur in the timber, out in the open, or in shallow water. As each bull advances he lowers his head and ears to meet the onward rush of his opponent, who maintains a similar posture. During the early stages of the campaign there is considerable "fencing." The animals rattle their horns together and each seeks to reach through to gouge his opponent's ear or eye with the long sharp points of his antlers. In the more furious campaigns each combatant attempts to shove his opponent backwards and then to take him off his guard and gore him with his sharp antlers. Occasionally, these animals get their broad antlers interlocked and become so weakened by their struggles that they are unable to disengage them. As a result both combatants may perish. The forelegs and hoofs are also frequently employed in these fights.

The moose is an excellent swimmer and, especially in summer, both the males and females spend a great deal of time wading and swimming about in the quiet ponds in search of aquatic vegetation, their main food supply at that season of the year. Another important reason for their taking to the water in summer time is that, by keeping most of their bodies submerged, they are able to escape the attacks of myriads of insect tormentors, such as mosquitoes and black gnats. Although in summer moose prefer regions where lakes and streams furnish them with a good food supply of aquatic plants, in the fall they prefer the open aspen and adjacent forest, and in winter feed largely in willow thickets.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010