Growing up in Minnesota, I was enamored by moose. There was something about sharing the state with these massive mammals that made it feel much wilder and untamed. That said, I grew up much closer to the Twin Cities than I did to moose territory. In fact, for the two decades I lived in Minnesota managed to catch only one fleeting glimpse of a moose. The sighting happened so quickly while snowmobiling with my family when I was a teenager, we just barely caught a photo of the female before she was gone. It’s safe to say that “micro-sighting” left me wanting more moose and my fascination definitely hasn’t worn off despite moving south. I am determined to observe a wild moose again and hope I’m lucky enough to catch more than just a glimpse next time.
All the following images were taken by Ryan Pennesi in the Northwoods of Minnesota. Ryan and I met while working as Naturalists at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota in 2013. Ryan has remained in Minnesota and continues to beautifully photograph some of
the state’s most unique species and landscapes. He is a skilled photographer and quite well known for his work with remote cameras. I highly encourage you to check out Ryan Pennesi Photography to enjoy the wild moments he has been able to capture.
Mammoth Sized Mammal
Everything about moose is huge! They are the largest deer species in the world, standing upwards of six feet tall at the shoulder. If their height wasn’t impressive enough, adult females generally weigh about 500-700 pounds and adult males can tip the scales at nearly 1,500 pounds.
Moose have quite the expansive range wrapping around the northern hemisphere. Due to their large size and insulating fur, moose are limited to cold climates. They especially prefer highly forested areas with plenty of water sources. Though not a common sight, they are found in the northern regions of the United States from Maine to Washington and into Alaska, as well as throughout much of Canada. Moose are not an exclusively North American mammal, their range includes Norway, Sweden, Finland, Poland, and the boreal forests of Russia. Surprisingly enough, smaller populations of moose are even documented in Mongolia and northeastern China.
Moose love water. In fact, they can close their nostrils giving them the ability to forage underwater. During the summer, moose are seen grazing on aquatic vegetation, often fully submerging their bodies in search of food. Considering their lack of hydro-friendly adaptations, moose are incredible swimmers. They have been observed swimming at speeds of over six miles per hour. To put that into perspective, most humans can only swim two miles per hour and Olympic swimmers average about five miles per hour. They have even been observed swimming long distances, over ten miles, in search of new, lush habitats. Thankfully, their thick fur coat with its long hollow hairs acts as a great life jacket to help keep them afloat.
Antlers of the family Cervidae (deer) are considered some of the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom! Male moose don the largest antlers among the deer family. By the end of summer, the antlers of a mature male can total 70 pounds and measure nearly seven feet across. Just imagine carrying that much weight atop your head! Both genetics and nutrition play a role in antler development, with a healthy diet being the most important factor. Beginning in early spring, males start to grow that year’s antlers. At first, these little knobs are covered in fuzzy velvet tissue. The knobs can grow up to an inch per day, adding about a pound of bone. By the fall, their antlers are finished growing and the males will rub their antler rack on trees and brush to remove the velvet in preparation for rut (deer breeding season). Large antlers help to attract females and spar other rival males. By mid-winter, antlers are shed which helps males conserve energy during the harsh winter.
September and October are busy months for moose as it’s their rut. During this time, the typically solitary animals will begin congregating in small groups to spar and court mates. Males will bellow loudly and create urine wallows to help attract females. After mating, the moose will go their separate ways usually until the following year’s rut.
Species like moose that love cold climates are disappearing. In northeastern Minnesota alone, the region has seen a 50% decline in moose population just in the last 10 years. Our changing climate is the likely cause of this decline. These big mammals require cool climates to thrive and summer heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to disease. When it gets too warm, moose typically seek shelter rather than foraging for nutritious foods needed to keep them healthy. More years with warmer, less snowy winters lead moose to experience an increase in disease and winter tick infestations. These ticks are known to feast on moose in the thousands, draining so much blood that even a massive moose cannot withstand the parasites. Hope is not lost, however, as we can help make a difference and help moose populations by taking simple daily actions by reducing our carbon emissions and dependance on fossil fuels, leading to a reduction in the negative effects of climate change.
Moose or Elk or Both
Did you know that moose have two different names depending on where you are in the world? Read carefully – this can get confusing! The name “moose” is actually a North American English term, and in British English the same species is called “elk” instead. European elk, also called European moose, are the same species as the North American moose. Regardless of names, they are not the same species as the North American elk – like the ones I photographed in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In other words, the elk of Europe are not the same as the elk in North America.