8 Marvelous Facts About Moose

Get to know this icon of the wilderness.

moose
This iconic wilderness species can be aggressive when provoked. Matt Dirksen / Getty Images

The largest member of the deer family, moose are probably most recognizable by the distinctive massive antlers grown by the males. Found in cold climates in northern North America and throughout Eurasia, these massive creatures are surprisingly athletic as they run and swim with ease.

Moose are not endangered, but they still face threats from humans and the climate crisis. They occasionally have encounters with humans and dogs, but it's best to back away so these animals don't have a chance to get aggressive. Get to know this icon of the wilderness with these facts.

1. Moose Are Usually Solitary

Unlike other members of the deer family, moose don’t travel in herds. They are relatively solitary animals, except for a few times during their lives. Mothers will stick with their calves until they are about a year old, then they will drive off the youngsters so that they can learn to fend for themselves. During mating or rutting season in fall, males often will meet up to battle each other over a mate. They will challenge each other by clashing antlers, then pushing, according to the National Park Service (NPS). But most of the rest of the time, moose are loners.

2. They Are One of the Tallest Land Mammals

Bull Moose
An Alaska bull moose can stand as tall as 7 feet at the shoulders. Chilkoot / Getty Images

Moose are the largest member of the deer family and one of the world’s tallest land mammals. They can stand 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall from hoof to shoulder and weigh more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), according to the National Wildlife Federation. The Alaskan moose (Alces alces gigas) is the largest subspecies. “Gigas” means giant. A male adult Alaskan moose can stand as tall as 7 feet (2.1 meters) at the shoulder and weigh up to 1,600 pounds, reports the NPS. Females can weigh up to 1,300 pounds.

3. Males Lose and Regrow Antlers Every Year

bull moose velvet antlers eating willow
A bull moose's antlers are covered in velvet until mating season. SBTheGreenMan / Getty Images

Male moose have antlers that span nearly 6 feet from tip to tip. They shed and regrow those antlers every year. Antlers are a sign of dominance, and they help bulls (male moose) protect their eyes when fighting over a mate. Sometimes they splash their antlers with urine in order to entice females to mate.

Antlers are made of bone and covered in a soft skin called velvet. They develop quickly, growing as much as eight nches in nine days. Before mating season in September, bulls have a rush of testosterone that causes the velvet to shed, leaving bare bone.

4. They Live in Cold Climates Around the World

Bull Moose at Moose Junction, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Moose thrive in cold weather because of their insulated fur. Joel Addams / Getty Images

Because of their thick, insulating fur and immense size, moose must live in cold climates. In North America, moose are found in the northern parts of the U.S. from New England, through the northern Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. They also live throughout Alaska and Canada.

There are also moose in Europe and Asia. They can be found in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Poland, as well as in smaller numbers in Russia, Belarus, northern Ukraine, Mongolia, and northeastern China. There were once moose in Austria, but the population is now extinct, and an attempt at introducing moose in New Zealand failed.

5. They Are Herbivores

Moose Eating Plants
Moose like to reach up to eat plants and trees. Robert Tonn / EyeEm / Getty Images

Moose are herbivores that eat a variety of plants and trees. The word “moose” is derived from an Algonquin term meaning “eater of twigs,” reports the NPS. Because they are so tall, moose prefer to reach up and eat twigs, barks, and leaves from trees and shrubs. Some of their favorites include the native trees and plants in their area such as willow, aspen, maple, and fir trees. They also feed on sodium-rich aquatic plants along the banks of streams and ponds and will dine on them below the surface.

Like cows, moose are ruminants. They have a compartmentalized stomach so they can eat a lot of food at once and then save it to digest later. A moose can store more than 100 pounds of food in its stomach.

Moose will change their dining habits depending on the season and the habitats they frequent. In summer, they typically stay in open areas where they eat plants that grow in fields and along streams and lakes. In winter, they gravitate toward forests to find cover from the elements and eat bark, pine cones, mosses, and lichen.

6. They’re Not Endangered, But They Still Face Threats

Moose crossing the road in Alaska, USA
Moose are often hit by vehicles on the road. andyKRAKOVSKI / Getty Images

According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, the moose is a species of least concern and is “very widespread and extremely abundant despite fairly intense hunting pressures in parts of its range.” Its range is even expanding in some regions.

In addition to hunting, moose face threats from habitat loss as humans move into their environments to build homes, farms, and infrastructure. They are often involved in car accidents and are hunted by wolves, black bears, and brown bears. The climate crisis is also having an impact, says the National Wildlife Federation, as warming temperatures lead to overheating, disease, and tick infestation. When it gets too warm, moose lose weight, don’t breed as often, and are more vulnerable to disease. Warm winters also cause ticks to flourish, weakening many moose from blood loss and causing others to die of anemia.

7. They Can Be Aggressive When Encountered

These beloved icons of the wilderness don’t want to be messed with. They are not naturally aggressive, but moose will attack when they are threatened by people, dogs, or vehicles — or even when they are hungry or tired. They will charge, kick, or stomp to protect themselves or their offspring. They will lash out if they are surprised when sleeping or when harassed when people or dogs get too close or try to chase them away.

You can tell a moose is going to attack because its ears are laid back, the long hairs on its hump are raised, and it may lick its lips. You should back away and look for something like a car, building, or tree to hide behind.

8. They’re Surprisingly Athletic

moose swimming
Moose can swim at speeds of 6 miles per hour. Silfox / Getty Images

Despite their huge size and the fact that they often are toting gargantuan antlers, moose are graceful on land and in the water. They are good swimmers and are able to keep speeds of about 6 miles an hour. On land, adult moose can run about 35 miles an hour (56 kilometers an hour). Even when they aren’t racing, they can trot at speed of about 20 mph and cover large distances. Moose are active all day long, but their movement peaks at dawn and dusk.