Moose, or Alces alces — giant among artiodactyl mammals. It was called elk because of the bulky horns, resembling a plow in shape. The beast is widely distributed in the northern forests of Europe, Asia and the North American continent. It differs from other representatives of the deer family in its long legs, short but massive body, high withers, large long head.
Origin of the species and description
Where this species of artiodactyls originated is not exactly known. Typical features inherent in the elk are found in the early Quaternary period. Its appearance is attributed to the Upper Pliocene and is associated with a closely related species — North American Cervalces. One Quaternary species is distinguished, corresponding to the lower Pleistocene – the broad-fronted elk.
It is he who can be called the progenitor of moose, which are found on the territory of the Russian Federation. The ancestors of this species, in appearance corresponding to the modern description, met during the Neolithic in the steppes of Ukraine, the Lower Volga region and Transcaucasia, on the Black Sea coast, in Ireland and England, Western Europe, but did not move to the Balkans and the Apennines.
The artiodactyl occupies large areas in the northern part of Europe, Asia, and America. By the beginning of the last century, the range narrowed, but measures to restore the population led to the fact that the elk again began to be found in the forests of Eurasia to the Vosges and the mouth of the Rhine. The southern border descends to the Alps and the Carpathians, captures part of the steppe zone of the Don basin, Western Transcaucasia, goes through the forest zone of Siberia up to the Ussuri taiga.
The beast feels great in Norway, Finland and Sweden. In Russia, it is found everywhere in the forest zone, except for Sakhalin and Kamchatka. Found in northern Mongolia and northeast China. On the American continent – in Canada. The restored population occupies the entire forest zone of the United States. The animal is unsightly in appearance. The head is strongly elongated and sits on a powerful neck. Its artiodactyl holds almost at the level of the humpback withers.
The impressive size of the muzzle is given by a large nose with a complex cartilaginous structure. It passes into the upper wrinkled, saggy lip.
The large ears are very mobile and pointed at the top. The tail is half the length of the ear. It completes the sloping croup and is almost invisible. Hanging from the neck is a bag-like outgrowth called an earring. It is more developed in males and can reach a length of 40 cm, but more often no more than 25 cm. The earring grows up to the age of four in length, then it shortens and becomes wider. look and feel
The hair of the elk has a black-brown color, without the usual “mirror” for its relatives on the back parts. The neck and withers are covered with longer hair. The legs are lighter in color than the body. The hooves are large, narrow, elongated and pointed. The lateral hooves are placed fairly close to the ground. When moving on soft soil, swamp, snow, they rest on the surface, redistributing the load and facilitating the move.
Males grow huge horns that are spread out to the sides. They grow almost horizontally at the base and have no branches. Toward the ends, there are deer-like processes, but most of them are located along the edge of the expanding flat section, the so-called “shovel”.
The span of the horns reaches 180 cm, and the weight is up to 40 kg. Their rough surface is brown in color. In the European species, the shovel has a small number of finger-like processes; in North American relatives, their number reaches forty. In young individuals, thin, unbranched horns grow in the first year of life. Shovels with processes appear only by the fifth.
The animal sheds its decorations from its head by December, and new ones begin to grow in April. The females are hornless. Adult specimens have a body up to 5 m long, the height at the humpback withers can reach up to 2.4 m, weight is about 600 kg, females are smaller and lighter than males. In Canada and the Far East, the mass of individual individuals reaches 650 kg. Powerful legs and hooves serve as protection for them.
Great weight and bulkiness do not prevent this long-legged beast from moving quickly through the forest and windfall, swamps, it easily overcomes a two-meter fence or ravines. Average walking speed — 9 km/h, while running up to 40 km/h. Moose can cross wide water bodies (3 km) and dive deep. Cases have been recorded when animals crossed the Rybinsk Reservoir (20 km), Scandinavian and American observers have similar results.
Where does the moose live?
The mammal lives in the forest zone, up to the tundra. After the restoration of an almost lost population, it settled again in various types of forests, along overgrown mountains, clearings, raised bogs, along the banks of water bodies.
In the summer, an ungulate can go far from the forest, wandering into the steppe or tundra zone. He loves aspen forests, alder forests, glades with abundant grass.
The animal prefers overgrown oxbow lakes, river channels, shallow lakes, since in summer they spend a lot of time in water or near water bodies, and loves swimming. It grazes in willows, but does not really like the deaf taiga. The more diverse the vegetation, the more likely it is to meet an elk here. Mammals in mountainous areas inhabit river valleys, gentle slopes, do not like strongly rugged reliefs. In Altai and the Sayan Mountains, the vertical range fluctuates between 1800-2000 m. The animal can wander into bald mountains, where there are lakes with coastal vegetation.
Through swamps, the animal moves to those places where the land goes far inland, and then moves along the islets, crawling over swampy areas on the belly, while the front legs are extended forward. In Altai, they cut a path in a swamp in dry areas, the depth of which is up to 50 cm. These animals live sedentary, staying in one place for a long time if no one disturbs and there is enough food. In summer, the individual plot is larger than the winter one. Outside their land, ungulates can go to salt licks. If there are such places on their sites, then animals visit them in the dark 5-6 times a day.
When the possessions of neighboring individuals intersect, at high density, then mammals calmly endure this and do not expel others, as happens with most of the deer family. The exception is moose cows during the first time after calving.
What does a moose eat?
This artiodactyl loves high herbage, consumes lichens (especially woody), regales on mushrooms, moreover, poisonous from a human point of view. Berries: cranberries, blueberries, lingonberries are picked and eaten along with twigs. In summer, due to its high growth, it grabs branches with its powerful lips and rips off foliage from them.
Prongy prefers to eat leaves and branches:
- bird cherry;
- maple trees;
- euonymus trees.
Of the herbaceous plants, fireweed is the most beloved, which grows in abundance in clearings – favorite places for artiodactyls. Near reservoirs and in the water, he feeds on watch, water lilies, egg capsules, marigold, sorrel, grasshopper, calamus, sedge, horsetail and other plants that grow along the banks. In autumn, its diet changes, the animal eats young shoots of trees and bushes, eats the bark of trees.
With a lack of food, it can gnaw at young branches of pine and fir, especially in the second half of winter, but more often it bites branches of willow, aspen, raspberry, birch, mountain ash, buckthorn, up to 1 cm thick. side, where it heats up and melts.
In total, the elk’s diet contains:
- up to 149 genera of angiosperms;
- 6 genera of gymnosperms, such as pine, juniper, yew;
- different types of ferns (5 genera);
- lichens (4 genera);
- mushrooms (11 genera);
- algae, such as kelp.
The Evenks call this artiodactyl tree-eater – “moot”, or the willow-eater – “shektats”, because it feeds on tree branches. Its usual name is — “currents”, superstitious hunters were afraid to use.
During the year, mammals consume up to seven tons of food, of which:
- bark – 700 kg;
- shoots and branches – 4000 kg;
- leaves – 1500 kg;
- herbaceous plants – 700 kg.
In summer, the daily ration can reach from 16 kg to 35 kg, and in winter it is about 10 kg. In winter, an elk drinks little and rarely eats snow, avoiding heat loss, but in summer it can draw in water or water slurry from 15 minutes to an hour, almost without interruption.
Character features & Lifestyle
Prongs is not very smart, frightened, he always goes ahead in a straight line. In ordinary life, he prefers beaten paths. Forest giants avoid areas where the snow is deeper than 70 cm and gather along the shady slopes, where the layer is looser. In the snow, the load is too great and the artiodactyl falls through, although long legs help to overcome snow-covered areas. Young moose calves follow the trail of an adult along such a cover.
During feeding, the animal stands, while eating food from the surface of the earth, tries to spread its legs wide, kneel down, while small calves often crawl. In danger, the beast relies more on its hearing and instinct, it sees very poorly and does not notice a motionless person. Moose do not attack people, only in exceptional cases, when they are injured or protect their cubs.
When there is a rut, mammals are constantly active. In the cold season, they rest up to five times a day, but with heavy snow or at the end of winter up to eight times. At low temperatures, they plunge into the snow, from under which only the head is visible, and lie for long hours. During strong winds, forest giants hide in the thickets. In the 1930s, moose were raised on special farms for use in hostilities, even machine guns were strengthened on horns. They were taught to distinguish Finnish from Russian by ear and give a sign. Animals caught the voice of a person at a distance of more than a kilometer.
In early June, elk are active during the day. With an increase in temperature and the appearance of a large number of horseflies and gadflies, artiodactyls tend to cool, where the breeze blows and there are fewer insects. They can settle in young conifers, in open swampy places, shallows, along the banks of reservoirs. In shallow waters, the animals lie down in the water, in deeper places they go into it up to the neck. Where there are no water bodies, the giants lie down in a damp place, but as soon as it heats up, they get up and look for a new one.
Not only does the midges make them lie down, the heat is not well tolerated by these artiodactyls, so in the summer they prefer daytime rest.
Social structure and reproduction
These large ungulates live alone, or huddle in groups of up to 4 individuals. Females form a herd of up to eight heads; in winter, young bulls can graze with them. With the onset of spring, the animals disperse. In summer, moose cows go with calves, sometimes with last year’s ones. Some couples remain after the rut, sometimes last year’s calves and adults join them, forming groups of 6-9 heads. Males after the rut often live separately, and young ones organize small groups. In winter, herding increases, especially during snowy seasons.
It happens that artiodactyls stray in pairs before the start of the rut, at the end of summer. The bull begins to make lowing sounds, following the female until the start of estrus. Males at this time begin to break off the branches and tops of trees with their horns, beat with their hooves. Where the moose cow urinated, they eat the earth, leaving a characteristic smell everywhere. At this time, the bulls eat little, their hair is disheveled, and their eyes are bloodshot. They lose caution, become aggressive, drive calves away from moose. The rut can go on for a month, it starts earlier in the southern regions, in the north – later, from mid-September. This difference is due to the onset of late spring in the north – a time more favorable for the appearance of babies.
During the rut, bulls tend to be monogamous. But if the moose cow does not respond to courtship, then the male is looking for another. Several applicants can be found near the female and there are fights between them, often with a fatal outcome. Young moose are ready for mating in the second year, but before the age of four they do not participate in the rut, since they cannot compete with adult bulls. Young people enter the mass rut later than the “old men”. Pregnancy lasts from 225 to 240 days, one — two calves, weighing 6-15 kg, depending on gender and number. The color of the moose is light brown with a reddish tinge. The second cub often dies. After 10 minutes, the newborns are already on their feet, but they immediately fall.
On the second day they move uncertainly, on the third they already walk well, and by the fifth day they run, after ten days they even swim. At first, the cub is in one place, if the mother runs away, then he lies, hiding in the grass or under a bush. The female feeds the calf with milk for about four months, before the rut. In individuals that do not participate in mating, lactation continues. Moose calves start eating green food from two weeks. By September, they gain weight up to 150 kg.
Natural enemies of moose
Among the main enemies of the elk, bears can be called. Most often they attack artiodactyls when they wake up from hibernation. They often harass pregnant females or attack moose calves. Mothers protect babies. Especially dangerous is the impact of the forelimbs. In this way, an ungulate can strike down a bear, or any enemy
Wolves are afraid to attack adults, they do it in a pack and only from behind. More often, babies die from gray predators. In a snowy winter, wolves cannot keep up with the elk, even the young. A flock can easily drive a calf or an emaciated adult through a brown, dense forest or during spring return colds. Huge artiodactyls cannot resist the lynx or the wolverine, which guard their prey in an ambush on a tree. Rushing from above, predators cling to the neck, biting the arteries.
Moose are very annoyed by summer midges, horseflies and gadflies. Their larvae can settle in the nasopharynx. With a large number of them, breathing becomes difficult, the mammal becomes exhausted, since it is difficult for him to eat, sometimes he dies. From the bites of horseflies on the legs of animals, non-healing ulcers appear that bleed.
According to eyewitnesses, there were years when animals, tortured by gnats, went out to housing without reacting to dogs or people. The inhabitants of the villages poured water over the bitten animals, fumigated them with smoke, but they could not save everyone from death.
Population and species status
Due to excessive hunting, the fairly stable population of the largest forest ungulates began to decline from the 19th century. By the beginning of the last century, the animal was exterminated, or almost disappeared, in many regions where it was found earlier, both in Eurasia and in North America. Temporary bans on hunting and protection measures led to the gradual restoration of the former habitats. Elk skin used to be used to make camisoles and riding pants, which were called “leggings”.
At the end of the 20s, in many regions of Russia, no more than a few dozen individuals could be counted. Decrees on the prohibition of fishing (except for Siberia) led to the fact that the increase in livestock began in the late 30s. Also, animals migrated to more southern regions, where young forests appeared on the sites of fires and clearings.
During the Great Patriotic War, the number of artiodactyls in the European part of Russia again significantly decreased. In 1945, a ban on hunting was introduced, and a fierce fight against wolves began. The reduction in the number of gray predators, the organization of protected areas, the introduction of licensed fishing were the decisive factors that influenced the noticeable increase in the number of livestock.
The number of wild ungulates in the territory of the RSFSR was:
- in 1950 — 230 thousand;
- in 1960 — 500 thousand;
- in 1980 — 730 thousand;
- by 1992 — 904 thousand.
Then the decline began and by 2000 the number was 630 thousand individuals. With a much smaller range, at the same time in the North. Up to 1 million moose lived in America, 150 thousand in Norway, 100 thousand in Finland, Sweden & # 8212; 300 thousand. And this is in countries where the beast was previously almost exterminated. The global conservation status of this animal is designated as “causing the least concern.”
In Russia, according to experts, even taking into account the interests of forestry, it is possible to increase the number of elk to 3 million, now their number is about 700-800 thousand heads. Although this animal is not threatened with destruction, it is worth taking extra care of its safety and increase in livestock. Moose can live in captivity for dietary meat, skin, horns and milk.