Moose Biology

 

MOOSE (Alces alces)

 

Moose hold strong social, ecological, and economic importance in Ontario.

 

Moose are an integral part of Ontario's biodiversity and generate millions of dollars in economic activity through hunting, viewing and tourism each year. Moose are a social and cultural icon to many northern communities. They are the largest of Ontario's four cervid species.

 

bull moose
 Moose: Some Interesting Facts

 

  • Ontario is home to over 100,000 moose, which is just over 10% of the estimated one million moose in North America.
  • Moose are herbivores, which means they feed on plants and plant material.
  • Moose antlers grow each year beginning in the spring and then are shed in the early or mid-winter. Only male moose grow antlers.
  • Moose rely heavily on their hearing and very keen sense of smell.
  • Moose are Ontario's second largest mammal (only the polar bear is larger). Moose can weigh over 1000 pounds and reach standing heights of over 7 feet.
  • Moose can live up to 20 years or more, however normally few moose live over 10 years.

 

Map of Ontario Showing Moose Range
Moose range in Ontario shown in red

 

Range and Habitat 

 

Moose can be found in Ontario from the Hudson Bay Lowlands to the most southern extent of the Ontario Shield.

 

Healthy moose populations require habitat that provides a good mix of food, water and cover.

 

Moose prefer areas with a mixture of young and mature forest and are often found in greatest numbers where parts of the forest have been disturbed by wildfire or forestry operations. These types of disturbances open up the forest and allow light to penetrate to the forest floor. Light promotes the growth of young trees and shrubs that are primary foods for moose.

 

 

Habits 

 

bull moose in wetland

Moose use different habitats at different times of the year. These seasonal movement patterns are associated with finding the best food and cover available.

 

Moose use the cover of different habitats for shelter against weather and predators. Thermal cover is used to help moose control their body temperature, especially during extreme weather and temperatures in the summer and winter.

 

In the summer, moose prefer low lying areas with stagnant water. Moose will eat large quantities (25-30 kg) of aquatic plants each day in order to gain weight for the fall/winter period. Moose will also use these aquatic habitats to cool down during high summer temperatures.

 

In the fall, adult moose breed. This period is called "the rut". During the rut, bull moose make grunting noises to attract cows and warn other bulls to stay away. Bull moose become aggressive and use their antlers to fight with other bulls for potential mates.

 

As winter approaches, moose move to upland areas with dense habitat cover for protection from weather and predators. During the winter months, moose graze on available twigs and shrubbery, and become less active in order to conserve their energy.

 

In the spring, cow moose that were bred the previous fall give birth. The gestation period for a female moose is about eight months and calf moose are usually born in mid-to-late May. Calves will normally stay with their mother for their first year. 

 

Diagram:  Seasonal Movement Patterns of Moose in Ontario

 
Seasonal Movement Patterns of Moose in Ontario



 

 

Life Cycle

 

Moose populations grow relatively slowly. Although many wildlife species will reproduce rapidly when good habitat conditions exist, in some species such as moose, the numbers increase much more gradually. View a comparison of the reproductive potential for moose, deer and black bear  (PDF)

 

Calves

cow and calf moose
      Photo credit: Tim Bowman
At birth, calves usually weigh between 12 and 17 kilograms (26-37 lbs.). Very soon after birth the calves are able to walk and swim. Calves grow quickly over the summer months and can gain between 1.5 and 3 kilograms a day, reaching 160-180 kilograms (350-400 lbs.) by fall. In Ontario, the natural mortality of calves can be high as a result of extreme spring weather and predators. In some areas, more than 75% of calves can die in their first six months of life.

 

Yearlings (Juveniles)
These are moose in their second year of life, but they look almost full grown. Bulls often have spikes or small forks for antlers when they are 1½ years old.
 

Adults
Adult moose are very large. Female moose (cows) usually range from 375 to 535 kilograms (825-1180 lbs.). Male moose (bulls) are larger and usually range from 400 to 545 kilograms (880-1200 lbs.). Bulls are usually about 1.7 to 2.3 metres (5.5-7.5 feet) high at the shoulder. Bull moose have large heavy antlers, which are dropped in the winter and are re-grown again during the following spring and summer. Cows do not grow antlers. Antler size is an important factor in determining the dominance of bulls during breeding time each fall. Natural mortality of adult moose is generally low in this phase of their life.

 

Seniors
As moose age, they often lose weight and bulls' antler size can decrease. Natural mortality increases at this stage in life. Teeth begin to wear down, diseases such as arthritis develop, and parasite loads increase.

 

If you would like to test your skills at identifying moose at different life stages, view this hunter education presentation.

 


Diagram: The General Population Structure of Moose in Ontario

 

 Diagram: General Population Structure of Moose in Ontario


 

 

In Ontario, forests on Crown land are managed on an ecosystem basis to provide sufficient natural habitat for all wildlife species – including moose.

 

Moose are good swimmers and can dive over 5 meters deep to find food.

 

Over its lifetime, a cow moose will typically produce only half as many offspring as a doe white-tailed deer. Cow moose will not normally bear a calf until their third year.