From Yellowstone Wildlife: A Watchers Guide 
by Todd Wilkinson, Photography by Michael H. Francis

Gentile Giant of the Marshes

As the largest member of the deer family, the moose (alces alces shirasi) is a long - lived, ravenous vegetarian that seems charmingly oversized. Bulls and cows are both covered with a coat of dark brown hair that appears almost black when wet. Their hind legs show a white "wash" at times. 

While the imposing, palmate antlers are a trademark of males, both sexes share features that are delightfully pronounced. The elongated snout, bulbous nose, and pendulous dewlap or "ell" under the throat distinguish them from other ungluates (hoved animals) in the ecosystem. Except during mating, bulls are solitary, while cows stand guard over their twin calves until the animals are about a year old. 

Next to bison, moose are the largest animals encountered in the park. Healthy bulls and cows can live into their twenties, reach staggering weights of 1,000 pounds or more, and achieve shoulder heights topping seven feet. Compared to other megafauna in Yellowstone, moose are newcomers, immigrating as late as the 1870's in to the park from the south, and onto the park's northern range by 1913. About 200 now inhabit the northern range, and perhaps 600 more live elsewhere within the park.

During the summer, moose frequent shallow ponds, marshes, and streams to feed on succulent aquatic plants. Notice that, as they wade through water, moose will dip their nose in halfway to grasp a bite of vegetation. About 90 percent of the moose's winter diet is composed of "browse" - the supple ends of twigs from conifers, willows, and shrubs.

Bulls, particularly during the autumn breeding season, may flay grasses upon their antlers and stop moodily through the underbrush as a menacing means of displaying masculinity. Like elk and deer, bull moose shed their antlers following the breeding season, which is also known as the rut. Their giant racks help the bulls assert dominance during sparring matches with other males. Later they begin sprouting new, velvet-covered antlers. In late summer, bulls rub the velvet off by grinding and sharpening the pointed tines on trees. This behavior explains why some antler edges have a polished look to them


Where to find Moose

The most popular place is Willow Park, a haven for moose between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Junction that's a regular stopover for professional wildlife photographers. During the spring, summer and autumn months, you may see moose near Bridge bay, Lake, and Fishing Bridge along Yellowstone Lake northward into Hayden Valley. Other moose-viewing locations include Phantom Lake northwest of Tower-Roosevelt, and roadside areas near the east and northeastern entrances to the park. Hikers in the Canyon Village and Lake areas frequently encounter cow moose with calves.  Continue to the next page, Mountain Goat.

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