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Example Entry

The moose (in North Amer­i­ca) or elk (in Eura­sia) (Alces alces) is a mem­ber of the New World deer sub­fam­i­ly and is the largest and heav­i­est extant species in the deer fam­i­ly. Most adult male moose have dis­tinc­tive broad, palmate (“open-hand shaped”) antlers; most oth­er mem­bers of the deer fam­i­ly have antlers with a den­drit­ic (“twig-like”) con­fig­u­ra­tion. Moose typ­i­cal­ly inhab­it bore­al forests and tem­per­ate broadleaf and mixed forests of the North­ern Hemi­sphere in tem­per­ate to sub­arc­tic cli­mates. Hunt­ing and oth­er human activ­i­ties have caused a reduc­tion in the size of the moose’s range over time. It has been rein­tro­duced to some of its for­mer habi­tats. Cur­rent­ly, most moose occur in Cana­da, Alas­ka, New Eng­land (with Maine hav­ing the most of the low­er 48 states), New York State, Fennoscan­dia, the Baltic states, Fin­land, Poland, Kaza­khstan and Rus­sia.

Its diet con­sists of both ter­res­tri­al and aquat­ic veg­e­ta­tion. The most com­mon preda­tors of the moose are wolves, bears, and humans. Unlike most oth­er deer species, moose do not form herds and are soli­tary ani­mals, aside from calves who remain with their moth­er until the cow begins estrus (typ­i­cal­ly at 18 months after birth of the calf), at which point the cow chas­es them away. Although gen­er­al­ly slow-mov­ing and seden­tary, moose can become aggres­sive, and move quick­ly if angered or star­tled. Their mat­ing sea­son in the autumn fea­tures ener­getic fights between males com­pet­ing for a female.

Some moose photos
from Unsplash

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from a distance

in water

Etymology and naming

Alces alces is called a moose” in North Amer­i­can Eng­lish, but an elk” in British Eng­lish.[4] The word elk” in North Amer­i­can Eng­lish refers to a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent species of deer, Cervus canaden­sis, also called the wapi­ti. A mature male moose is called a bull, a mature female a cow, and an imma­ture moose of either sex a calf.

Accord­ing to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, the ety­mol­o­gy of the species is of obscure his­to­ry”.[4] In Clas­si­cal Antiq­ui­ty, the ani­mal was known as ἄλκη álkē[5] in Greek and alces[6] in Latin, words prob­a­bly bor­rowed from a Ger­man­ic lan­guage or anoth­er lan­guage of north­ern Europe.[4] By the 8th cen­tu­ry, dur­ing the Ear­ly Mid­dle Ages, the species was known as Old Eng­lish: elch, elh, eolh, derived from the Pro­to-Ger­man­ic: *elho-, *elhon- and pos­si­bly con­nect­ed with the Old Norse: elgr.[4] Lat­er, the species became known in Mid­dle Eng­lish as elk, elcke, or elke, appear­ing in the Latinized form alke, with the spelling alce bor­rowed direct­ly from Latin: alces.[4][7] Not­ing that elk is not the nor­mal pho­net­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tive” of the Old Eng­lish elch, the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary derives elk from Mid­dle High Ger­man: elch, itself from Old High Ger­man: ela­ho.[4]

The word elk” has cog­nates in oth­er Indo-Euro­pean lan­guages, e.g. elg in Dan­ish/Nor­we­gian; älg in Swedish; alnis in Lat­vian; Elch in Ger­man; and łoś in Pol­ish.[8] In the con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean lan­guages, these forms of the word elk” always refer to Alces alces.

The youngest elk bones in Great Britain were found in Scot­land and are rough­ly 3,900 years old.[9] The elk was prob­a­bly extinct on the island before 900 AD.[10] The word elk” remained in usage because of Eng­lish-speak­ers’ famil­iar­i­ty with the species in Con­ti­nen­tal Europe; how­ev­er, with­out any liv­ing ani­mals around to serve as a ref­er­ence, the mean­ing became rather vague, and by the 17th cen­tu­ry elk” had a mean­ing sim­i­lar to large deer”.[10] Dic­tio­nar­ies of the 18th cen­tu­ry sim­ply described elk” as a deer that was as large as a horse”.[11]

Con­fus­ing­ly, the word elk” is used in North Amer­i­ca to refer to a dif­fer­ent ani­mal, Cervus canaden­sis, which is also called by the Algo­nquian indige­nous name, wapi­ti”. The British began col­o­niz­ing Amer­i­ca in the 17th cen­tu­ry, and found two com­mon species of deer for which they had no names. The wapi­ti appeared very sim­i­lar to the red deer of Europe (which itself was then almost extinct in South­ern Britain) although it was much larg­er and was not red;[10] the two species are indeed close­ly relat­ed, though dis­tinct behav­ioral­ly and genet­i­cal­ly.[12] The moose was a rather strange-look­ing deer to the colonists, and they often adopt­ed local names for both. In the ear­ly days of Amer­i­can col­o­niza­tion, the wapi­ti was often called a gray moose and the moose was often called a black moose, but ear­ly accounts of the ani­mals var­ied wild­ly, adding to the con­fu­sion.[13]

The word moose” had first entered Eng­lish by 1606[14] and is bor­rowed from the Algo­nquian lan­guages (com­pare the Nar­ra­gansett moos and East­ern Abena­ki mos; accord­ing to ear­ly sources, these were like­ly derived from moosu, mean­ing he strips off”),[15] and pos­si­bly involved forms from mul­ti­ple lan­guages mutu­al­ly rein­forc­ing one anoth­er. The Pro­to-Algo­nquian form was *mo·swa.[16]

Ear­ly Euro­pean explor­ers in North Amer­i­ca, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Vir­ginia where there were no moose, called the wapi­ti elk” because of its size and resem­blance to famil­iar-look­ing deer like the red deer.[17] The moose resem­bled the Ger­man elk” (the moose of con­ti­nen­tal Europe), which was less famil­iar to the British colonists. For a long time nei­ther species had an offi­cial name, but were called a vari­ety of things. Even­tu­al­ly, in North Amer­i­ca the wapi­ti became known as an elk while the moose retained its Angli­cized Native-Amer­i­can name.[17] In 1736, Samuel Dale wrote to the Roy­al Soci­ety of Great Britain:

The com­mon light-grey moose, called by the Indi­ans, Wampoose, and the large or black-moose, which is the beast whose horns I here­with present. As to the grey moose, I take it to be no larg­er than what Mr. John Clay­ton, in his account of the Vir­ginia Quadrupeds, calls the Elke … was in all respects like those of our red-deer or stags, only larg­er … The black moose is (by all that have hith­er­to writ of it) account­ed a very large crea­ture. … The stag, buck, or male of this kind has a palmed horn, not like that of our com­mon or fal­low-deer, but the palm is much longer, and more like that of the Ger­man elke.[18]

Description and anatomy


Bull moose have antlers like oth­er mem­bers of the deer fam­i­ly. Cows select mates based on antler size. Bull moose use dom­i­nant dis­plays of antlers to dis­cour­age com­pe­ti­tion and will spar or fight rivals.[19] The size and growth rate of antlers is deter­mined by diet and age; sym­me­try reflects health.[19]

The male’s antlers grow as cylin­dri­cal beams pro­ject­ing on each side of the head at right angles to the mid­line of the skull, and then fork. The low­er prong of this fork may be either sim­ple, or divid­ed into two or three tines, with some flat­ten­ing. Most moose have antlers that are broad and palmate (flat) with tines (points) along the out­er edge.[19] With­in the eco­log­ic range of the moose in Europe, those in norther­ly locales dis­play the palmate pat­tern of antlers, while the antlers of Euro­pean moose over the souther­ly por­tion of its range are typ­i­cal­ly of the cerv­ina den­drit­ic pat­tern and com­par­a­tive­ly small, per­haps due to evo­lu­tion­ary pres­sures of hunt­ing by humans, who prize the large palmate antlers. Euro­pean moose with antlers inter­me­di­ate between the palmate and the den­drit­ic form are found in the mid­dle of the north – south range.[20] Moose with antlers have more acute hear­ing than those with­out antlers; a study of tro­phy antlers using a micro­phone found that the palmate antler acts as a par­a­bol­ic reflec­tor, ampli­fy­ing sound at the moose’s ear.[21]

The antlers of mature Alaskan adult bull moose (5 to 12 years old) have a nor­mal max­i­mum spread greater than 200 cen­time­ters (79 in). By the age of 13, moose antlers decline in size and sym­me­try. The widest spread record­ed was 210 cen­time­ters (83 in) across. An Alaskan moose also holds the record for the heav­i­est weight at 36 kilo­grams (79 lb).[19]

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Moose are great swimmers

Proboscis and olfaction

The moose pro­boscis is dis­tinc­tive among the liv­ing cervids due to its large size; it also fea­tures nares that can be sealed shut when the moose is brows­ing aquat­ic veg­e­ta­tion. The moose pro­boscis like­ly evolved as an adap­ta­tion to aquat­ic brows­ing, with loss of the rhi­nar­i­um, and devel­op­ment of a supe­ri­or olfac­to­ry col­umn sep­a­rate from an infe­ri­or res­pi­ra­to­ry col­umn.[26] This sep­a­ra­tion con­tributes to the moose’s keen sense of smell, which they employ to detect water sources, to find food under snow, and to detect mates or predators