North Star Critter Spotlight: Moose

by Sara Swenson

Get to know an iconic Minnesota mammal a little better as we shine this week’s North Star Critter Spotlight on the majestic moose.  Learn why the moose is a species of special concern in the state and what you can do to help it make a comeback!

photo hook - moose

Meet the Moose

  • The moose (Alces alces) is a member of the cervid (deer) family of mammals.  Other cervids in Minnesota include the white-tailed and mule deer and the elk.
  • In Minnesota, moose live in the northwestern and northeastern parts of the state and on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.
  • Male moose are called bulls and female moose are called cows.
  • Bull moose grow a new set of antlers each spring.  While most deer antlers grow in a dendritic (twig-like) configuration, moose antlers have a large, palmate shape.
  • Unlike most deer, moose are solitary animals that do not form herds.
  • Moose usually live between 15 and 25 years.  The mating season (rut) occurs from mid-September to mid-October, and calves are born in May or June the following year.  Cows occasionally give birth to twins.
  • The most common predators of the moose are wolves, bears, and humans.
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Calves stay with their mothers for the first 12 to 18 months of their lives. Photo credit: musubk

Did You Know?

  • The moose is the largest species of deer living on earth today and also Minnesota’s largest wild animal.  Individuals average 950 to 1000 pounds in weight and stand 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder.
  • A moose can store more than 100 pounds of food in its stomach.
  • Moose antlers can measure up to five feet across and 40 to 50 pounds in weight.  These massive antlers begin growing in April and are shed in December or January to conserve energy for the winter.  The bull’s yearly antlers reach their full size in 3 to 5 months, making them one of the fastest growing organs of any animal!
  • Moose have strong senses of hearing and smell.
  • Moose can move surprisingly fast if angered or startled and can run up to 35 miles per hour.
  • Moose are strong swimmers!  (Just see for yourself!)  They can swim about 6 miles per hour and go for 10 miles without stopping.  They can also dive to the bottom of shallow ponds and lakes to feed on bottom-growing vegetation.  (See more moose swimming!)
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Bull moose compete for cows during the mating season, known as the rut. Photo credit: chasedekker

Minnesota Status

The Minnesota DNR classifies the moose as a species of special concern.  Special concern species are not threatened or endangered, but are either extremely uncommon in the state or have uniquely specific habitat requirements that warrant careful monitoring of their status.

The Minnesota moose has been in the news quite a bit lately as researchers try to discover why more moose are dying in the state than is normal.  With 25 percent of adults lost each year—a rate 2 to 3 times higher than that of moose populations elsewhere—the Minnesota population of moose is declining at an unsustainable rate.  Moose are also dying at times of the year in which they should be in their prime.  Unfortunately, the cause of this decline is still unknown.

In order to solve the mystery of Minnesota’s dying moose, researchers need to be able to examine the animals immediately after their death.  This has been made possible by modern GPS tracking technology and funding for the DNR’s groundbreaking study of moose mortality that began this year.  While the reason for the falling population of Minnesota moose is likely a combination of many different factors, parasites and disease may play an important role.  Winter ticks, for example, cause moose to rub off their hair and to lose blood, leading to anemia and death from malnutrition and emaciation.  Up to 100,000 ticks can infect a single moose.

Climate change is another potential stressor for moose, with warmer winters supporting greater numbers of ticks or new pathogens and disease-carrying insects.  With more funding, researchers hope to expand the DNR study to determine whether heat stress from higher summer temperatures is contributing to the Minnesota moose decline.  Habitat and forest management are also important considerations.

There is still much left unsolved in the mystery of moose mortality in Minnesota, but researchers are working hard to change this.  What we do know is that in order to save the moose, we need to figure out why they are in trouble.  The moose is an amazing creature and an important part of Minnesota culture.  Learn more about helping the moose and funding moose research from the nonprofit Save Minnesota Moose.

Sara C Swenson is a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management (concentrated in Environmental Education and Communication) and a minor in Spanish.  She has studied biology and conservation in the Galápagos Islands and the effects of tourism on coral reef ecosystems in Belize, is well-versed in Minnesota’s Environmental Review process, and has a longstanding interest in environmental policy and communication.

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