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Cool Critter Factoids
Latin Name: Alces alces, meaning "the elk." (The English
term "moose" comes from the Algonquian word,
mus or mooz, meaning "twig eater.")
Habitat: Ranging through the northwest United States and
Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, and Northern China.
Classification: Mammal, Herbivore

Moose are the largest living members of the deer family. Of all moose, the Alaskan species, Alces alces gigas, grows larger than any other of their relatives around the world. Though moose are relatively docile, they can be intimidating figures. Their length stretches as long as 10 feet. They stand up to 8 feet at their shoulder. Full-grown male moose, called "bulls," weigh as much as 1,200 pounds, and adult females, called "cows," grow to nearly 900 pounds.

Nice Hat, Mr. Moose
The moose's fur varies in shades of brown, sometimes fading to a dark yellow or darkening to almost black. Their color darkens with age and changes during seasons. Bull moose grow antlers that are unique to the individuals. They spread and flatten at the edges into hard, rounded tips like fingers. A bull moose's antlers can weigh 60 pounds alone. A bull moose also has an interesting deposit of skin called a "bell" hanging from its neck. The bell serves no known purpose except as another distinguishing mark between cows and bulls. Both bull and cow moose have thin, long legs and a thick torso. Their awkward appearance suggests that they are uncoordinated and clumsy. However, this is not the case, as they can charge and run at great speeds and distances.

Think about it:
Imagine how hard it would be to move through a thick forest with big antlers on your head.

Watch for Moose Crossing
While moose are generally timid around people, they frequently venture from their forest habitats into civilization. Because of this, moose can be dangerous to careless humans who might see them as no more harmless than dairy cows. On the contrary, moose can be unpredictable and irritable. They are fiercely protective of their young, and have been known to charge, trample, and kick unsuspecting people who accidentally walk between a mother and her calf. Occasionally, moose have challenged trains and vehicles, perhaps scared and triggered by the foreign objects. But moose are not naturally mean. They are proud animals that will protect themselves when they feel threatened. They can be easily spooked and irritated when they are hungry, tired, or harassed by traffic or people. But a cow is always most dangerous when with her calf, and a bull moose is much more likely to charge during mating season.

Think about it:
What makes a moose so irritated?

Mating, in the Key of G
During mating season, the bull moose's bellow can be heard up to 6 miles away. They compete for cows by clashing antlers and kicking hooves. Moose mate in the fall and the cows carry their young until the calves are born in the late spring. It is not uncommon for moose to give birth to twins when they are most fertile. They give birth in the early summer months, in swampy areas close to food. Moose calves are born reddish brown and stay with their mothers until the end of the following winter.

Think about it:
Experiment with a friend. See how far apart you can go and still be heard if you shout a message.

Walking Tall
Because of their long legs and short neck, moose cannot graze easily on short grasses. In the spring and summer, they usually chew long shoots and water weeds. When winter weather makes this food difficult to find, moose survive on the bark and twigs of willow, birch and aspen trees. When snow is deep in higher elevations, moose are more likely to move down where it's easier to get around--such as in city streets and yards. That's when drivers, skiers, and dog-walkers must take extra caution.

Think about it:
Have you ever noticed how moose nibble off the shoots of small trees all at the same height? Those chewed-up hedges are a sure sign that a moose has been around.

Moose Tools
For centuries, Alaska's Natives, especially the Athabascan people, have hunted moose for food, clothing, and other uses, always respecting the animal and honoring the "gift" of its death to help sustain the people. Before modern conveniences, the Athabascans used moose bones, antlers, sinew, and organs for a variety of tools and ornaments. Moose hides are still used for traditional clothing such as moccasins, gloves, jackets, and pants, as well as coverings and countless craft objects. Moose roast, ribs, and ground meat fill up freezers, and many Native women make a family favorite of moosehead soup.

Think about it: Imagine you lived in Alaska 200 years ago, before there were clothing and grocery stores. What would you eat? How would you stay warm?

Ultimate Gift

To help feed needy people, the Food Bank of Alaska has partnered with the Alaska Railroad to salvage the meat of moose that are accidentally killed while walking on the railroad tracks. One recent winter, 180 moose died in train collisions. According to the Food Bank, 300 pounds of ground meat can be made from one 1,000-pound moose. Another program in Anchorage keeps non-profit organizations on call for harvesting the meat of moose that are killed on roadways. Volunteers are immediately called to the site of an accident to salvage the meat and remove the carcass. That way, the meat is not wasted, but distributed to people who need food.

Think about it: How many pounds of ground moose meat can be made from 180 moose that weigh 1,000 pounds each? Now, how many quarter-pound mooseburgers could you cook?

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Image provided by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

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Image provided by Anchorage Daily News.

Click for Fullsize
Image provided by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

Click for Fullsize
Image provided by Anchorage Daily News.

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