In the Field

Alaska Animals – The Yukon-Alaska Moose

Alaska Animals – The Yukon-Alaska Moose

In this blog article, we’re heading into Alaska moose country to have a look at the largest member of the deer family: the mighty Alaska-Yukon Moose. While there are three different subspecies of moose, including the Canada and Shiras moose, the Alaska-Yukon moose is the largest, tipping the scales between 800 to 1,600 pounds and standing up to almost seven feet tall at the shoulders!

Moose can be light brown to almost black in color, with much of the variation depending on age and what time of year it is. Of course, one of the things that they’re well known for is the enormous antlers that the males (known as bulls) can develop. Moose tend to develop their largest sized racks when they’re between ten to twelve years old, but a moose of superior genetics can develop much sooner. To give you an idea of just how huge their antlers can get, the last two world record Alaska-Yukon moose had racks around 80 inches wide! That’s longer than many living room couches!

Moose Life Cycle

moose size
A cow and bull moose during the rut.

Female moose (know as cows) start to breed when they’re around two years old, however, this can differ somewhat depending on the area they live in. Like most other deer species, female moose give birth to their calves in the spring, with their newborns weighing in at only around 28 pounds. Even though moose start out very tiny as babies, they grow up fast! Within just the first five months of their lives, they can grow to ten times the size of their birth-weight. Calves typically start feeding on their own when the breeding season or “rut” begins again in the fall, and if they haven’t let their mothers by the following spring, they’re usually run off to start fending for themselves as they begin maturing into adulthood. And as an adult, the typical lifespan for a Yukon-Alaska moose is around 16 years.

When the rut begins in late September and early October, like other species of deer, the bulls begin fighting for dominance and breeding rights. While most moose fights don’t end in serious injury, some moose do get badly hurt and even killed during a battle.

aggressive moose fight
Two bull moose battle it out to see who is the king as the breeding season begins

 

Moose Diet

 The very word “moose” is derived from an Algonquin word that means “Eater of Twigs.” And, true to their name, moose do indeed eat a wide variety of twigs and plants. During the summer and spring of the year, moose eat the leaves of willow, birch, and aspen trees, as well as all sorts of moss, weeds, grasses, and other vegetation found in the swampy areas where they live…which is responsible for their nickname “swamp donkey.” During the fall and winter months, when the trees are mostly bare, moose will feast on large quantities of the actual twigs and small branches from the willow, aspen, birch, and other trees.

swamp donkey cow moose
A cow moose feasting on swamp vegetation.

 

Interesting Moose Facts

While moose are obviously very large animals, don’t let their enormous size fool you into thinking that they’re slow and dumb. Moose are intelligent animals, with extraordinary senses and they’re also amazingly fast and agile, not to mention, they can be VERY aggressive and dangerous!  Moose can run up to 35 miles per hour and can swim up to ten miles per hour. They can also dive down to twenty feet deep and hold their breath for over a minute.

Currently, in Alaska there’s around 175,000 to 200,000 moose. And while adult moose generally don’t have any natural predators, moose calves can get preyed upon quite hard by wolves, black bears and brown/grizzly bears, resulting in a much lower moose population in areas where the numbers of predators are high.

Moose also make very interesting vocalizations. The cows are known for their whiney moaning sound, and the bulls make low, guttural grunting noises. Moose can also be heard in the wild thrashing their antlers in the brush, especially when the rut arrives and the bulls begin to get more aggressive.

moose calling, moose call, moose soundss
A bull moose grunting away!

So that’s an overview of the Alaska-Yukon moose. To watch the video version of this blog article, click here.

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