Moving quietly through the forest, a large dark, ungainly form emerges from the trees. With his humped shoulders, huge pendulous muzzle, long dewlap, and broad massive horns, he looks like quite the beast. He walks down the lake bank and clops into the water. He’s at home in the lake and is a good swimmer.
Now standing belly deep, the bull moose plunges his head underwater and pulls up a mass of plants to eat. After a few minutes, he submerges and dives to the lake bottom to eat more sodium-rich plants. He will also eat tree leaves, twigs, and bark.
Moose are the only members of the deer family that can eat while underwater. They are also the largest of the deer family. Males are bigger than females, standing 6-9 feet (2-3 m) at the shoulder and weighing up to 1,500 pounds (680 kg), with an impressive rack of antlers. Moose have long faces and dangling muzzles, with a long dewlap or bell (flap of skin) that hangs from the chin. With their tough tongue, gums, and prehensile upper lip, they can pull tree branches down and eat the leaves.
Like other deer, moose hair is hollow. This trapped air helps to insulate them and keep them warm in the cold northern forests where they live.
They avoid contact with people, but rutting males, or females with calves, are unpredictable and will sometimes charge people, cars, and even trains.
September has come. The bull’s antlers, which began growing in April, have spread to almost 6 feet (2 m) across and are covered with a soft, furry covering called “velvet.” He grunts and bellows loudly. A nearby female waits.
Another bull moose has heard him. He thunders in and confronts the grunting male. They assess each other. Which one is bigger, stronger? Which antlers are more impressive? They both stand their ground. They will fight, if necessary. But when the bull rushes the intruder, the stranger realizes he’s out-matched. Quietly he backs off and retreats into the forest. There will be no fighting this time.
Females give birth to one or two calves. Within a couple of weeks, the young can swim.
A bull pauses as he munches a piece of bark. Danger! A pack of five wolves approach. He begins to run. The pack keep up the pace.
After a while the moose stops and backs into a patch of dense spruce trees to help protect his legs and stomach. With a roar, he boldly faces the wolves. The wolves close in. The moose readies himself. Then kicking out with both front and back legs, the moose strikes in all directions at the attacking wolves. The wolves retreat, then advance.
The moose continues his assault. Then, smack! Hooves connect. A wolf goes down. Then another. The remaining wolves back off, then lope away, the injured wolves limping behind. Breathing heavily, the moose waits, still alert. But the crisis is over.
Despite their ungainly appearance, moose are limber animals. Adults are capable of killing wolves and fending off bears. They have strong legs, and are able to run up to 35 mph (56 km/h) for short distances and trot steadily at 20 mph (32 km/h). Often they escape predators simply by running and tiring out their enemies. They can live up to twenty years.
Awkward-looking, but majestic at the same time, moose command attention and respect. Once seen, they are never forgotten.