Moose: Habits, Diet and Other Facts
The moose (Alces alces) is a mammal belonging to the deer family, called moose in North America and eurasian elk in Europe. It is distinguished by the cup shape of its antlers (generally in males), which can reach 1.6 meters in length. They are native to the Palearctic and Neoarctic and are distributed in circumpolar regions. In North America, moose are found throughout much of Alaska, Canada and the United States. They are also found in northeastern Europe and northern Asia. There are factors that likely limit its distribution to the north, such as enough food and snow depths above 70 cm, for longer periods. Its southern distribution is limited by hot climates that have temperatures above 27°C for long periods.
It is found in a variety of habitats in the cold northern hemisphere regions of the globe that have seasonal snow cover. They inhabit the Temperate Forest and Taiga biomes, including the Tundra-subalpine zone. Habitats include boreal forest, broadleaf and mixed (coniferous deciduous). Within these forests, they prefer the early stage of succession, where foliage is abundant.
The horns of the Alces elk can weigh up to 35 kg, the largest horns of a mammal in the world. They are herbivores and do not have upper incisors. They eat tree shoots, undergrowth, aquatic plants and leaves from trees and shrubs, they are very fond of wild Pinus. These animals benefit from activities such as fire, flooding, logging and glacial action that increase the quality and quantity of the type of food they enjoy. In this type of environment there is an increase in species density. In addition to forest habitats, moose seek areas close to water, such as lakes, swamps, ponds and rivers, where they also find plenty of food, such as willow for the North American species.
A male weighs around half a ton (500 kg), but there is a subspecies in Alaska that can weigh up to 700 kg. The female is lighter, weighing around 400 kg. regulating the temperature and the heat produced by fermentation in their intestines makes them unable to tolerate temperatures above 27°C for very long. It is the largest deer in the world, reaching 2.3 meters in height. They have twilight activity, are good runners and can swim well. They are loners for most of their lives, but can come together in the breeding season (in harems). At another time of year they are not territorial, having tolerance for overlapping areas of life, depending on sex and age.
They are animals that have sexual dimorphism, since the female is smaller. They are polygamous and can form harems or transient pairs. Harems are formed by dominant males (they have larger body size and horns) that gather females to mate. Other large males challenge the dominant male, seeking the right to mate. Reproduction takes place between September and October, and gestation lasts up to 231 days, with one to two puppies being born, with an average weight of 16 kg. The puppies live with their mother for more or less until one year of age. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years of age, but they develop until 4 or 5 years of age, when they are at their best reproductive peak. Studies show that a moose begins to have health problems around 8 years of age, but can reach up to 15 years in the wild.
The moose is a herbivorous animal, capable of consuming many types of vegetables and fruits. On average, an adult moose can consume 9,770 kcal (40.9 kJ) per day to maintain its body weight. Much of the energy consumed by moose is derived from undergrowth, shoots of trees such as willow and birch. These plants have a low sodium content, and moose, generally, to make up for this shortage, consume a good amount of aquatic plants. In winter, moose are often lured onto the highways to lick up the salt that is used to melt snow and ice. A common moose can weigh 360 kg and eat up to 32 kg of food per day.
Habitat loss and hunting pressure are impacts caused by humans. Only about half of the chicks reach adulthood, due to predation by large carnivores such as bears, wolves and pumas. Bears prey more in spring and wolves more in winter. Despite suffering great hunting pressure in natural areas, they are not considered endangered. They are listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.