I expect that all of us have come into contact with creatures in our lives that amaze us and fill us with wonder. To me the best ones among these are those that don’t have to be contained in a zoo, but, rather, range around freely, as long as we know where to go look for them.
One such animal that always intrigues me and never ceases to fill me wonderment, is the Moose or as it’s known in Eurasia, the Elk. These majestic beasts are the largest members of the deer family, and roam boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates.
Having encountered a number of these magnificent animals up close (within 6 feet), I can attest to how impressive these gentle giants, when a yearling’s withers were just slight above the top of my head (6 feet at the withers). The yearling in the above image was still with its mother, as they were both browsing along the shoreline of the pond. As it was early June, the summer coat was still being established, creating a rather unkempt look.
Friday was the only good weather day out of the weekend that I went on this moose photography trip back in 2006; our small group had a fantastic guide, who certainly knew where to find the moose in Baxter State Park in Maine. On Saturday, rain was torrential, but luckily I was prepared for this weather, so still got some interesting shots, such as this bull moose in the pond…
You can tell how bad the rain was in this image, but the moose was not fazed by the weather at all. He was busy pulling vegetation up out of the pond and taking a look around from time to time.
The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume 9,770 kcal (40.9 MJ) per day to maintain its body weight. Much of a moose’s energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life. In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter. A typical moose, weighing 360 kg (794 lb), can eat up to 32 kg (71 lb) of food per day.
Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food. A moose’s upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and the lip is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all.
A moose’s diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others. Many aquatic plants include lilies and pondweed. To reach high branches, a moose may bend small saplings down, using its prehensile lip, mouth or body. For larger trees a moose may stand erect and walk upright on its hind legs, allowing it to reach branches up to 4.26 metres (14.0 ft) or higher above the ground.
Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. This trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and water to wet themselves in. Moose have been known to dive underwater to reach plants on lake bottoms, and the complex snout may assist the moose in this type of feeding. Moose are the only deer that are capable of feeding underwater. As an adaptation for feeding on plants underwater, the nose is equipped with fatty pads and muscles that close the nostrils when exposed to water pressure, preventing water from entering the nose. Other species can pluck plants from the water too, but these need to raise their heads in order to swallow.
Hope you enjoyed this little bit about these magnificent animals!