Alaska; Denali’s moose

Moose are large and look quite ungainly. They have very long legs, an absurdly long face, and have a diet that is pure roughage. The winter coat is long, rough and grayish. They are very nice looking from a distance, so right for the landscape, but up close I tended to find all their faults. Biologically none of these are faults as they have evolved to serve any number of purposes; but it did enter my mind that this beast would make a very sloppy indoor pet. Of course they are rarely even outdoor pets. When we were in Alaska in early June every female seemed to have a baby or two. It was looking like a good year for the moose population; which also means a good year for the wolf population.

The moose were quite social with humans if not so much with their own kind. The parking areas had disturbed soils around them due to previous construction and maintenance. In Alaska disturbed soil grows alders and in the spring the new leaves of most any deciduous tree are a sought after treat for the moose after a winter of twigs. Hence there were moose in many town park, residential yards,  and other areas that featured leafy vegetation. The moose above walked through the major parking lot at Denali National Park followed by her new twins – they were most certainly not after leaves. Whenever she stopped to browse they rushed in to suckle.

Eating is a big deal for a moose. They have longish prehensile lips that gather in small branches and then peels the leaves off as the moose lifts her head away. This is how they get about 50 pounds of leaf matter each day. With lower teeth and a strong palate they are able to harvest and crush the leaves, adding saliva and starting digestion as they swallow. They ferment the leaves in their first stomach section and then burp the mash back up to be chewed more (cud). Then it passes on into the last three stomach chambers for digestion. The droppings are rather small jelly bean shaped pellets.

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Sometimes life get complicated and the kids return from college and want to live at home… oh no that’s another species. With moose it sometimes happens that last year’s youngster wants to stay with mom but mom has a new baby. Out on the Kougarok Road we watched these three moose for quite a while. The mother (middle) chased last years kiddo (right) away over and over again. Each time she gave chased the baby from this year (left, with ears like a jack-rabbit) would follow her, keeping right underfoot. The teenager (right) didn’t want to leave and I don’t think this was to be resolved easily. The most likely outcome seemed to be that the little one would get trampled in the continual replay of the heedless chases.
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While walking on a tiny bit of conservation land in Homer, actually right in Homer, when we happened on this female moose with a small youngster. This image was taken just as I decided to leave the area. Mothers can be a bit unpredictable in all species and this is a big mother. I am inserting what is a rather lousy image just to show the long grayish hairs on the rump and mane that the moose is shedding as summer approaches. The baby is the warmer brown bit in the left foreground. The ears are silhouetted against the mother’s belly.
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At the Ellison Nature Center way out the Denali Road the moose takes its rightful place an emblem of the great remote lands of this region. You can see that the upper jaw has no front teeth but does have molars. The “horns” are not horns but are antlers which are shed each year after the “rut”. It is a very taxing (energetically) process to grow these things each year. They can weigh 40 pounds and can be six feet across. Only caribou (called reindeer in Europe) females have antlers otherwise it is only the male of the deer family that grow them. Evolutionarily the antlers seem to have replaced the tusks that ancient deer fossils show.

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