In the East Siberian race of the elk (Alces alces bedfordiae) the posterior division of the main fork divides into three tines, with no distinct flattening. In the common elk (Alces alces alces), on the other hand, 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 phase of the common elk in which the antlers are simpler, and recall those of the East Siberian race.
The palmation appears to be more marked in the North American race, the moose (Alces alces americanus) than in the typical Scandinavian elk. The largest of all is the Alaskan race (Alces alces gigas), which can stand over 2 m (6.5 ft) in height, with a span across the antlers of 1.8 m (6 ft).
A moose crossing a river.
The great length of the legs gives a decidedly ungainly appearance to the moose. The muzzle is long and fleshy, with only a very small triangular naked patch below the nostrils; and the males have a peculiar sac, known as the bell, hanging from the neck. From the shortness of their necks, moose are unable to graze, and their chief food consists of young shoots and leaves of willow and birch, tree bark and mast in winter, and waterplants (such as Arnicus brucitus
). These ruminants are often found feeding in wetlands and swamps. Moose are typical of boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to cool climates. In North America, that includes almost all of Canada, Alaska, much of New England, and the upper Rockies. In Europe, most of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia have widespread moose populations. In Asia, moose are confined mainly to Russia. Moose were generally more broadly distributed in the past. Many of the European countries to which moose were once native now have extirpated or relic moose populations.
Male moose (bulls) can weigh over 550 kg (1200 lb), and females (cows) are sometimes more than 400 kg (880 lb). Calves weigh around 15 kg (33 lb) at birth but quickly increase in size. Height at the shoulders can surpass 2 m (6.5 ft). Only the males have antlers, often 160 cm (63 in) across and 20 kg (45 llb) in weight with a broad, flattened palmate shape fringed in up to 30 times.
An Alaskan moose discovered in 1897 holds the record for being the largest known modern deer; it was a male standing 2.34 m (7 ft 8 in) at the shoulders and weighing 816 kg (1799 lb). Its antler spread was 199 cm (78.3 in). The usual pace is a shambling trot but, when pressed, moose can break into a gallop.
Although moose are generally timid, the males become very bold during the autumn breeding season; it is not uncommon for them to charge at moving trains. The females utter a loud call, similar to the lowing of cattle, which can be heard from up to 3.2 km away. During breeding (the rut), males will compete for females by fighting with their antlers and hoofs and by fierce clashing of antlers. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was referring to this behavior when he said "I am as strong as a bull moose" (some accounts say "fit as a bull moose"). Because of this, Roosevelt's Progressive Party became popularly known as the Bull Moose Party. As well as bellowing, the female moose emits a strong, odoriferous pheromone in order to attract a mate. She also secretes pheromones in her urine which lets the males know that she is in estrus. Females generally begin to breed at 2, but more usually 3, years of age.
A female moose.
The female gives birth to one or two (non-spotted) young at a time, in spring. The gestation period for a moose is about 216-240 days. After the young are born, they drink the mother's milk, which is very high in fat and other nutrients. Because of the milk, the calf grows very fast.
Moose are reported to kill more people in Canada than any other animal except, perhaps, for bees (far exceeding the toll of, for example, the grizzly bear). Females can be extremely protective of their young, and extreme caution should be exercised when approaching a cow moose. The overwhelming majority of human fatalities attributable to moose occur in motor vehicle collisions with moose.
In North America, during the winter, moose may form loose aggregations in fairly dense conifer forests, which they keep open by trampling the snow. In the spring, moose can often be seen in drainage ditches at the side of roads, taking advantage of road salt which has run off the road. These minerals replace electrolytes missing from their winter diet.
In North America, changes in land use patterns, mainly the clearing of northern forests for settlement and agriculture, have led to the range of the White-tailed deer expanding northward. Where their ranges overlap, moose may become infected by parasites carried by the deer such as brain worm, Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, and winter ticks, Dermacentor albipictus, which, though fairly harmless to deer, can be fatal to moose.
In Western culture, the moose is often depicted as laconic and good-natured but not terribly bright. Bullwinkle of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, an animated television series, is the most famous example.
Vehicle collisions and moose warning signs
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).
Moose or elk warning signs are used on roads in regions where there is a danger of collision with the animal. The triangular Swedish warning signs have become coveted souvenirs among the many German tourists traveling to the country, and authorities have had to issue warnings that it is a dangerous and criminal practice to take down one of these signs. The popularity of these signs has led to them being depicted on all kinds of souvenirs, such as coffee mugs, neckties or T-shirts, and full-size copies of the actual signs may be bought. In the mid 1990s, the Swedish postal service issued a triangular stamp with an elk warning sign, intended to cater especially to German tourists writing postcards home. The brand Ahlgrens bilar ("Ahlgren's Cars"), a popular confectionery product which has been on the market since 1953, has in recent years been extended to other car- and road-related products, one of which, depicting Swedish road signs, includes a candy elk warning sign.