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Massive and Majestic

We just had to write about the massive and majestic Moose (Alces alces) after capturing this great photo with our game camera of a bull moose in our wetland area at the Nature Centre.

This is a young bull, probably about 2-3 years old. Moose are the largest and heaviest members of the deer family. The males can reach more than 6' tall (l.8 meters) and can weigh over 1000 lbs (450 kilograms).

The word moose or moosh in the Algonquian language means 'stripper and eater of bark'. Moose are herbivores eating only leaves, bark and twigs, primarily from willow, birch, and poplar trees. During the summer months they consume shrubs, upland plants and aquatic vegetation. Moose are powerful swimmers and can hold their breath up to 30 seconds and can dive down 15'-18' (5 meters) for the plants on the bottom of lakes and ponds. They are also powerful runners obtaining speeds of up to 35K when necessary.

Each year the bull grows a set of antlers during the spring and summer. These antlers can span up to 6' (1.8 meters) across and weigh in at an astounding 75 pounds (34 kilograms). A thin covering known as 'velvet',

a soft blood-rich tissue, grows covering the antlers. As testerone levels rise in the males, the antlers harden into bone and once fully developed the velvet begins to dry and shed. The bulls accelerate the shedding by rubbing their antlers on trees and raking them through brush. The rut season (breeding) usually runs from October through to early December. This rubbing is also used for marking their territory, working off aggression, intimidating other males and preparing for a fight. It's a way for them to communicate their dominance and their breeding intentions. The antlers are not fused to their heads so bulls shed their antlers every winter.

The females known as cows do not have antlers but they aggressively protect their young from predators with powerful kicks using their hind legs. The gestation period is approximately 8 months with most calves being born in late May/early June. If the food supply is good, twins are common and at birth weigh between 17-33 pounds (8-15 kilograms). They stay with the mother for approximately 18 months until she is in estrus and then she drives the yearling(s) away.

The typical lifespan is 10-12 years but some moose can live up to 20 years.

When looking for signs or tracking moose in the bush, you will see a split hoof track in the snow approximately 5". Their scat in the winter are round long pellets. Their eyesight is extremely poor so for bedding down they typically like clearings or part way up a ridge where their excellent sense of smell and hearing warns of any danger. Wind coming over the top of the ridge warns them as well of any predators. Moose travel upwind and then will circle back before bedding down. Any predators following the moose will then have to approach from the windward side, alerting the moose. When they rise at dawn they will urinate and defecate next to the bed. Next time you see a 4' clearing in the snow you may be looking at a moose bed.

Moose are at the south part of their range here in Simcoe County. Bob Bowles, Master Naturalist who has been tracking moose in winter wetland swamps for the last six years estimates that there are over 200 moose in Simcoe County.

Here at the nature centre we will be hosting mammal tracking events during January and February (weather permitting). Tracking is best done on snowshoes with lots of freshly fallen snow. This activity adds another adventure to your hike and we hope will enrich your nature experience. Check out our website regularly for dates and times for these fun, outdoor, educational, upcoming events.

Photo Credit: Michael Elmer

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