The moose (Alces alces), is the largest member of the deer family and the largest mammal in North America. Moose is an Algonquin term for 'twig eater'.
In Europe the moose is known as the elk. It lives in forested areas where there is snow cover in the winter and nearby lakes, bogs, swamps, streams and ponds. It is a powerful swimmer within days of birth and can dive more than 5 m for food on a lake bottom. It gains weight as a calf faster than any other big-game animal.
The moose, along with the beaver, is one of the national animals of Canada. It is also considered the national animal of Sweden and Norway. In Norway it is often referred to as ‘the king of the forest’. The moose is the state animal of Alaska and Maine.
The moose stands 1.8 m (6 ft) tall from shoulders to feet. Females weigh 360-590 kg and males weigh 544-725 kg. It has long, thick, light brown to dark brown fur. Moose hair is hollow, which helps keep it warm. Its front legs are longer than its rear legs. It has very poor eyesight but good hearing and an excellent sense of smell.
Most moose have a pendant of fur-covered skin, about 30 cm long, called a bell, hanging from the throat. Moose grow antlers each summer and shed them each autumn.
With their tremendous physical power and vitality, moose can travel over almost any terrain. Long legs carry them easily over deadfall trees or through snow that would stop a deer or wolf. Their cloven hooves and dewclaws spread widely to provide support when they wade through soft muskeg or snow. When frightened they may crash noisily through the underbrush, but in spite of their great size even full-grown, antlered bulls can move almost as silently as a cat through dense forest.
Before bedding down, a moose usually travels upwind for a time and then swings back in a partial circle. Thus predators following its track will have to approach from the windward direction. A moose calf is able to follow its mother on a long swim even while very young, occasionally resting its muzzle on the cow’s back for support.
Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Moose are found in Canadian forests from the Alaska boundary to the eastern tip of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is estimated that there are between 500,000 and 1 million moose in Canada. Moose are constantly spreading northwards through the sparse transition forest that extends to the open tundra.
Today, moose management in Canada is soundly based on aerial counts, habitat inventories, and scientific studies of reproductive rates and calf survival. Moose have adapted well to human activities, and with appropriate management, will always be part of the Canadian landscape.