Did you know the Alaskan Moose (Alces alces gigas) is Alaska’s official land mammal and 175,000–200,000 of these hulking critters call Alaska home?
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As Anchorage locals will tell you, Alaskans have a love-hate relationship with moose. But we think the creatures are super cool and can be exciting to see! And if you’re working in northern Alaska, you’ll eventually have a moose encounter—especially in the winter. Here are five fun facts about moose to help you seem like a natural Sir David Attenborough when your first encounter happens.
1. Alaska Has the World’s Largest Moose
Alaska’s frontier is enormous and so are some of the animals who call it home. Alaskan moose, who are the largest member of the deer family, are also the largest moose in the world. A well-fed bull (male) Alaskan moose can weigh upward of 1,600 pounds and have a hoof-to-shoulder height of seven feet! That’s nearly 900 pounds heavier and a foot taller than the average elk. The only larger land mammal in North America and Europe are bison.
2. Moose Eat More Food than Black Bears
Although moose are herbivores, they eat an enormous amount of food daily. In summer, a moose will happily munch on 73 pounds of food a day, and in winter they’ll scrounge up 34 pounds of scrumptious greens.
Moose are what ecologists call “browsers”, or animals who mostly eat the leaves, soft shoots or fruits of tall, woody plants. They also love to munch on aquatic plants in marshes. Moose who strut into town often pick apple trees clean and devour entire garden shrubs in one afternoon.
Let’s compare a moose’s diet to a black bear, another iconic critter in Alaska. Male black bears in Alaska commonly weigh 350 pounds and eat up to 18 pounds of food each day. Which means that compared to a black bear, moose eat on average four times more food every day.
3. Moose Rarely Use Antlers in Self-Defense
Much like male deer, bull moose mostly use their antlers, also known as paddles, for two things: territorial fighting and courtship.
If a wolf pack or other predator attack a moose, the moose will fight back with its piercingly sharp hooves and ferocious kicking strength. The hooves and strength can mortally wound an enemy: bear, wolf or human alike.
Moose use their antlers to ward off other bull moose. During the autumn mating season, bull moose will establish their breeding territory by brandishing their antlers and butting heads together with thunderous clashes. The moose with the most impressive rack, and the combat prowess to support it, typically gets the best mating territory.
4. Bull Moose Grow a New Rack Every Year
Every winter, moose shed their antlers and then grow a new pair in the spring. Every year, the new pair of antlers grows to be even more impressive than the last: antler nubs eventually become spikes while spikes transform into the ironic paddles that make moose famous.
5. Moose can be Dangerous in Northern Alaska
As we mentioned, if you’re working in northern Alaska, you’ll eventually meet a moose. And that meeting might not be the picture-perfect moment you dreamed of. It’s common for townsfolk to wake up in the morning to find moose in their yards munching on crops and devouring gardens. Moose also tend to slyly slip onto the tarmac at airfields and listlessly wander through city streets.
Moose are generally not aggressive animals, but they are incredibly dangerous when provoked. As a rule, never approach a moose. Bull moose may take any movement toward them as aggression and charge you. Female moose will not hesitate to engage you if she thinks you’re threatening her young. The rule of thumb here is to avoid moose if you encounter them, by skirting out of their line of site and staying in vehicles or inside the house.
The biggest danger moose pose to Alaskans (and Alaskans pose to moose) is vehicle-moose collisions. Moose are huge and striking one with most heavy-duty trucks will total the vehicle and often kill the moose. So, be careful and keep an eye on the road!
As with most wildlife, it’s best to respect a moose’s space and power. Appreciate that we share the land with these creatures and understand that they’ll sometimes interrupt our daily schedules. For our guests, this can be a delightful experience. After the novelty wears off, our employees typically find moose encounters to be another fun quirk of working in Alaska.