Some wildlife native to Alaska and places with similar climates are moose, sheep, caribou, red foxes , deer, and oxe.
A. a. americana
A. a. mexicana
A. a. oregona
A. a. peninsularis
A. a. sonoriensis
The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is a species of artiodactyl mammal endemic to interior western and central North America. Though not an antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the prong buck, pronghorn antelope, or simply antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of the Old World and fills a similar ecological niche due to convergent evolution. It is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. During the Pleistocene period, 12 antilocaprid species existed in North America. About five existed when humans entered North America][ and all but A. americana are now extinct.
Adult males are 1.3–1.5 m (4 ft 3 in–4 ft 10 in) long from nose to tail, stand 81–104 cm (32–41 in) high at the shoulder, and weigh 40–65 kg (88–140 lb). The females are the same height as males but weigh 34–48 kg (75–110 lb). The feet have just two hooves, with no dewclaws. The body temperature is .
Each "horn" of the pronghorn is composed of a slender, laterally flattened blade of bone that grows from the frontal bones of the skull, forming a permanent core. As in the Giraffidae, skin covers the bony cores, but in the pronghorn it develops into a keratinous sheath which is shed and regrown on an annual basis. Unlike the horns of the family Bovidae, the horn sheaths of the pronghorn are branched, each sheath possessing a forward-pointing tine (hence the name pronghorn). The horns of males are well developed.
The orbits (eye sockets) are prominent and sit high on the skull; there is never an antorbital pit. The teeth are hypsodont, and the dental formula is:
Males have a prominent pair of horns on the top of the head, which are made up of an outer sheath of hairlike substance that grows around a bony core; the outer sheath is shed annually. Males have a horn sheath about 12.5–43 cm (4.9–17 in) (average 25 cm (9.8 in)) long with a prong. Females have smaller horns, ranging from 2.5–15 cm (1–6 in) (average 12 centimetres (4.7 in)) and sometimes barely visible; they are straight and very rarely pronged. Males are further differentiated from females in that males will have a small patch of black hair at the angle of the mandible. Pronghorns have a distinct, musky odor. Males mark territory with a scent gland located on the sides of the head. They also have very large eyes, with a 320 degree field of vision. Unlike deer, pronghorns possess a gallbladder.
It can run exceptionally fast, being built for maximum predator evasion through running, and is generally accepted to be the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. The top speed is very hard to measure accurately and varies between individuals; it can run 35 mph for 4 mi (56 km/h for 6 km), 42 mph for 1 mi (67 km/h for 1.6 km); and 55 mph for .5 mi (88.5 km/h for .8 km). It is often cited as the second-fastest land animal, second only to the cheetah. It can, however, sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs. University of Idaho zoologist John Byers has suggested that the pronghorn evolved its running ability to escape from extinct predators such as the American cheetah, since its speed greatly exceeds that of extant North American predators. It has a very large heart and lungs, and hollow hair. Although built for speed, it is a very poor jumper. Their ranges are often affected by sheep ranchers' fences. However, they can be seen going under fences, sometimes at high speed. For this reason the Arizona Antelope Foundation and others are in the process of removing the bottom barbed wire from the fences, and/or installing a barb-less bottom wire.][
The pronghorn has been observed to have at least 13 distinct gaits, including one reaching nearly 7.3 m (8 yards) per stride.
Pronghorns were brought to scientific notice by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which found them in what is now South Dakota. The range extends from southern Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada south through the United States (southwestern Minnesota and central Texas west to coastal southern California and northern Baja California Sur, to Sonora and San Luis Potosí in northern Mexico.
The subspecies known as the Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) occurs in Arizona and Mexico. Other subspecies include the Mexican pronghorn (A. a. mexicana), the Oregon pronghorn (A. a. oregona), and the critically endangered Baja California Pronghorn (A. a. peninsularis).
Pronghorns live primarily in grasslands but also in brushland and deserts. They eat a wide variety of plant foods, often including plants that are unpalatable or toxic to domestic livestock (sheep and cattle) though they also compete with these for food. In one study forbs comprised 62% of the diet, shrubs 23%, and grasses 15%, while in another, cacti comprised 40%, grass 22%, forbs 20%, and shrubs 18%. An ongoing study by the Lava Lake Institute for Science and Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, shows an overland migration route that covers more than 160 miles. The migrating pronghorn start travel from the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains through Craters of the Moon National Monument to the Continental Divide. Dr. Scott Bergen of Wildlife Conservation Society says, "This study shows that pronghorn are the true marathoners of the American West. With these new findings, we can confirm that Idaho supports a major overland mammal migration -- an increasingly rare phenomenon in the U.S. and worldwide."
Cougars, wolves, coyotes and bobcats are the major predators. Golden Eagles have been reported to prey on fawns.
Pronghorns form mixed-sex herds in the winter. In early spring the herds break up with young males forming bachelor groups, females forming their groups and adult males living a solitary life. There are female bands which share the same summer range and bachelor male bands form between spring and fall. Females form dominance hierarchies with few circular relationships. Dominant females will aggressively displace other females from feeding sites.
Adult male pronghorns employ two different mating strategies during the breeding season. A pronghorn male will defend a fixed territory that females may enter or it might defend a harem of females. A pronghorn may change mating strategies depending on environmental or demographic conditions. In areas that have high precipitation, adult male pronghorn tend to be territorial and maintain their territories with scent marking, vocalizing and challenging intruders. In these systems, territorial males have access to better resources than bachelor males. Females also employ different mating strategies. "Sampling" females will visit several males and remain with each for a short time before switching to the next male, at an increasing rate as oestrus approaches. "Inciting" females will behave as samplers until oestrus and then incite conflicts between males. The females watch and then mate with the winners. "Quiet" females will remain with a single male in an isolated area throughout oestrus.
When courting an estrous female, a male pronghorn will approach her while softly vocalizing and waving his head side to side, displaying his cheek patches. A receptive female will remain motionless and sniff his scent gland and then allow the male to mount her. When mating, the tip of a male pronghorn's penis is often the first part to touch the female pronghorn. The penis is about 5 inches long, and is shaped like an ice pick. The front of the glans penis is relatively flat, while the back is relatively thick. The male pronghorn usually ejaculates immediately after intromission.
Pronghorns have a gestation period of 235 days, longer than is typical for North American ungulates. They breed in mid-September, and the doe carries her fawn until late May. This is around six weeks longer than the white-tailed deer. Newborn pronghorns weigh 2–4 kg, most commonly 3 kg. In their first 21–26 days, a fawn spends time hiding in vegetation. Fawns interact with their mothers for 20–25 minutes a day and this continues even when the fawn joins a nursery. The females nurse, groom, and lead their young to food and water as well as keep predators away from them. Males are weaned 2–3 weeks earlier than females. Sexual maturity is reached at 15 to 16 months, though males rarely breed until 3 years old. The longevity is typically up to 10 years, rarely 15 years.
By the 1920s, hunting pressure had reduced the pronghorn population to about 13,000. Protection of habitat and hunting restrictions have allowed their numbers to recover to an estimated population of between 500,000 and 1,000,000. There has been some recent decline in a few localized populations, due to blue tongue disease which is spread from sheep; however the overall trend has been positive since conservation measures were put in place.
Pronghorn migration corridors are threatened by habitat fragmentation and the blocking of traditional migration routes. In a migration study conducted by Lava Lake Institute for Science and Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, at one point the migration corridor bottlenecks to an area only 200 yards wide.
Pronghorns are now quite numerous and outnumbered people in Wyoming and parts of northern Colorado until just recently. They are legally hunted in western states for purposes of population control and food. There are no major range-wide threats, although localized declines are taking place, particularly to the Sonoran pronghorn, mainly as a result of, among others, livestock grazing, the construction of roads, fences and other barriers that prevent access to historical habitat, illegal hunting, insufficient forage and water, and lack of recruitment.
Three subspecies are considered endangered in all (A. a. sonoriensis, A. a. peninsularis), or part of their ranges (A. a. mexicana). Populations of the Sonoran pronghorn in Arizona and Mexico are protected under the US Endangered Species Act (since 1967), and a recovery plan for this subspecies has been prepared by USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1998). Mexican animals are listed on CITES Appendix I. Pronghorns have game-animal status in all of the western states of the United States, and permits are required to trap or shoot pronghorns.
Dominated by the Ahklun Mountains in the north and the cold waters of Bristol Bay to the south, Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
confronts the traveler with a kaleidoscope of landscapes. The natural forces that have shaped this land range from the violent and powerful to the geologically patient. Earthquakes and volcanoes filled the former role, and their marks can still be found, but it was the gradual advance and retreat of glacial ice that carved many of the physical features of this refuge.
The refuge has a surface area of 4,102,537 acres (16,602.4 km2). It is the fourth-largest National Wildlife Refuge in the United States as well as the state of Alaska, which has all eleven of the largest NWRs.
The refuge is home to 48 mammal species, 31 of which are terrestrial and 17 marine. More than 150,000 caribou from two herds, the Nushagak Peninsula and the Mulchatna, make use of refuge lands, which they share with wolves, moose, brown and black bears, wolverines, red foxes, marmots, beavers, and porcupines, among other land mammals. Seals, sea lions, walrus and whales are found at various times of year along the refuge's 600 miles (970 km) of coastline.
Some 201 species of birds have been sighted on Togiak Refuge. Threatened species can occasionally be found here, including Steller's and spectacled eiders. Several arctic goose species frequent the refuge, along with murres, peregrine falcons, dowitchers, Lapland longspurs and a rich variety of other seabirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and raptors. Refuge staff and volunteers have also documented more than 500 species of plants, demonstrating a high degree of biodiversity for a sub-arctic area.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Dall sheep (originally Dall's sheep), Ovis dalli, is a species of sheep native to northwestern North America, ranging from white to slate brown in color and having curved yellowish brown horns. Its closest relative is the more southern subspecies, Stone sheep (also spelled Stone's sheep) (Ovis dalli stonei), which is a slaty brown with some white patches on the rump and inside the hind legs.
Research has shown the use of these subspecies designations is questionable. Complete colour integradation occurs between white and dark morphs of the species with intermediately coloured populations, called Fannin sheep (Ovis dalli fannini), found in the Pelly Mountains and Ogilvie Mountains of Yukon Territory. Mitochondrial DNA evidence has shown no molecular division along current subspecies boundaries, although evidence from nuclear DNA may provide some support. Also at the species level, current taxonomy is questionable because hybridization between Ovis dalli and Ovis canadensis has been recorded in recent evolutionary history.
The latter half of the Latin binomial dalli is derived from William Healey Dall (1845–1927), an American naturalist. The common name Dall sheep or Dall's sheep is often used to refer to the species Ovis dalli. An alternative use of common name terminology is that thinhorn sheep refers to the species Ovis dalli, while Dall's sheep and Stone's sheep refer to subspecies Ovis dalli dalli and Ovis dalli stonei, respectively.
The sheep inhabit the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Mackenzie Mountains in the western Northwest Territories, and northern British Columbia. Dall sheep are found in relatively dry country and try to stay in a special combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged ground in the immediate vicinity, to allow escape from predators that cannot travel quickly through such terrain.
Male Dall sheep have thick curling horns. The females have shorter, more slender, slightly curved horns. Males live in bands which seldom associate with female groups except during the mating season in late November and early December. Lambs are born in May.
During the summer when food is abundant, the sheep eat a wide variety of plants. The winter diet is much more limited, and consists primarily of dry, frozen grass and sedge stems available when snow is blown off, lichen and moss. Many Dall sheep populations visit mineral licks during the spring, and often travel many miles to eat the soil around the licks.
The primary predators of Dall sheep are wolves, coyotes, black bears, and grizzly bears; golden eagles are predators of the young.
Dall sheep can often be observed along the Alaska Highway at Muncho Lake, along the Seward Highway South of Anchorage, AK. and at Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park and Reserve, as well as near Faro, Yukon (Fannin's sheep).
The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (often shortened to Alaska Maritime or AMNWR) is a United States National Wildlife Refuge comprising 2,400 islands, headlands, rocks, islets, spires and reefs in Alaska, with a total area of 4.9 million acres (20,000 km2), of which 2.64 million acres (10,700 km2) is wilderness. The refuge stretches from Cape Lisburne on the Chukchi Sea to the tip of the Aleutian Islands in the west and Forrester Island in the southern Alaska Panhandle region in the east. The refuge has diverse landforms and terrains, including tundra, rainforest, cliffs, volcanoes, beaches, lakes, and streams.
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is well known for its abundance of seabirds. About 75 percent of Alaskan native marine birds, 15 to 30 million among 55 species, use the refuge. AMNWR also provides a nesting habitat for an estimated 40 million seabirds, representing 80 percent of all seabirds in North America. The birds congregate in "bird cities" (colonies) along the coast. Each species has a specialized nesting site (rock ledge, crevice, boulder rubble, pinnacle, or burrow). Other animals present in the park include sea lions, seals, walrus, whales and sea otters.
The administrative headquarters and visitor center are located in Homer, Alaska.
The refuge is divided into five units. Clockwise around Alaska, starting in the southeast, their component territories include:
Includes most of the land area of the Aleutian Islands, from Unimak in the east to Attu in the west)
(North America) or Eurasian elk
(Europe) (Alces alces
) is the largest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic ("twig-like") configuration. Moose typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Moose used to have a much wider range but hunting and other human activities greatly reduced it over the years. Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most moose are found in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. The most common moose predators are wolves, bears, and humans. Unlike most other deer species, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move surprisingly quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.
The animal bearing the scientific name Alces alces
is known in Britain as the "elk", and in North America as the "moose".
The British English word "elk" has cognates in other Indo-European languages, for example elg
in Danish / Norwegian; älg
in Swedish; Elch
in German; and łoś
in Polish (Latin alcē
and Greek ἅλκη álkē
are probably Germanic loanwords). Confusingly, the word "elk" is used in North America to refer to a different animal, the elk (or, less commonly, the "wapiti", Cervus canadensis
), which is a similar though slightly smaller species (the second-largest deer species) and behaviorally and genetically divergent from the smaller red deer of central and western Europe. Presumably, early European explorers in North America called this species "elk" due to its size and, as people coming from the British Isles, they would have had no opportunity to see the difference between a member of the genus Cervus
and an animal fitting the description of Alces
back in Europe, absent there during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The word "moose" first entered English by 1606, and is borrowed from Algonquian languages (compare the Narragansett moos
and Eastern Abenaki mos
; according to early sources, these were likely derived from moosu
, meaning "he strips off"), and possibly involved forms from multiple languages mutually reinforcing one another. The Proto-Algonquian form was *mo·swa
A mature male moose is referred to as a bull; a mature female moose is a cow; and an immature moose of either sex is a calf.
In North America, the moose range includes almost all of Canada (excluding the arctic), most of Alaska, northern New England and upstate New York, the upper Rocky Mountains, northern Minnesota, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Within this massive range, the most diverse range of subspecies exist, containing habitat for four of the six subspecies. In western portions of the continent, moose populations extend well north into Canada (British Columbia and Alberta) and more isolated groups have been verified as far south as the mountains of Utah and Colorado and as far west as the Lake Wenatchee area of the Washington Cascades. The range includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and smaller areas of Washington and Oregon. In 1978, a few breeding pairs were reintroduced in western Colorado, and the state's moose population is now more than 1,000 with great potential to grow.
In the 1940s, an effort was made to introduce moose to the Oregon Coast Range, but this effort failed due to the hunting activities of the local Native American population.]
In Northeastern North America, the Eastern moose's history is very well documented: moose meat was often a staple in the diet of Native Americans going back centuries and it is a tribe that occupied present day coastal Rhode Island that gave this deer its distinctive name in American English. The Native Americans often used moose hides for leather and its meat as an ingredient in pemmican, a type of dried jerky used as a source of sustenance in winter or on long journeys from home. Eastern tribes also valued moose leather as a source to make moccasins and other decorations.
The historical range of the subspecies extended from well into Quebec, the Maritimes, and Eastern Ontario south to include all of New England finally ending in the very northeastern tip of Pennsylvania in the west, cutting off somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River in the east. The moose has been extinct in much of the eastern U.S. for as long as 150 years, due to colonial era overhunting and destruction of its habitat: Dutch, French, and British colonial sources all attest to its presence in the mid 17th century from Maine south to areas within a hundred miles of present day Manhattan. However, by the 1870s, only a handful of moose existed in this entire region in very remote pockets of forest; less than 20% of suitable habitat remained.]
Since the 1980s, however, moose populations have rebounded, thanks to regrowth of plentiful food sources,]
[ abandonment of farmland, better land management, cleanup of pollution, and natural dispersal from the Canadian Maritimes and Quebec. South of the Canadian border Maine has most of the population with a 2012 headcount of about 76,000 moose. Dispersals from Maine over the years have resulted in healthy, growing populations each in Vermont and New Hampshire, notably near bodies of water and as high up as 3,000 feet above sea level in the mountains. In turn dispersals from northern New England have resulted in a growing population of roughly 1,000 moose in Massachusetts (where it has been absent since the early 18th century) plus reports of new dispersals to eastern New York and Connecticut.
Moose were successfully introduced on Newfoundland in 1878 and 1904 where they are now the dominant ungulate, and somewhat less successfully on Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
In Europe, moose are currently found in large numbers throughout Norway, Sweden, Finland, Poland, and the Baltic States, with more modest numbers in the southern Czech Republic, Belarus and northern Ukraine. They are also widespread through Russia on up through the borders with Finland south towards the border with Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine and stretching far away eastwards to the Yenisei River in Siberia. The European moose was native to most temperate areas that it could physically inhabit on the continent and even Scotland from the end of the last Ice Age as Europe's traditional habitat had a natural mix of temperate boreal and deciduous forest. It was certainly thriving in both Gaul and Magna Germania as it appears in military and hunting accounts of the age. However, as the Roman era faded into medieval times, the beast slowly disappeared: it survived in Alsace and the Netherlands until the 9th century as the marshlands in the latter were drained and the forests were being cleared away for feudal lands in the former. It was gone from Switzerland by 1000 AD, gone from the western Czech Republic by 1300, gone from Mecklenburg in Germany by c. 1600, and has been gone from Hungary and the Caucasus since the 18th and 19th century, respectively.
By the early 20th century, the very last strongholds of the European moose appeared to be in Scandinavian countries and patchy tracts of Russia. The USSR and Poland managed to restore portions of the range within its borders (such as the 1951 reintroduction into Kampinos National Park and the later 1958 reintroduction in Belarus) but political complications obviously limited its ability to be reintroduced to other portions of its range. Attempts in 1930 and again in 1967 in marshland north of Berlin were unsuccessful. At present in Poland, populations are recorded in the Biebrza river valley, Kampinos, and in Białowieża Forest. It has migrated into other parts of Eastern Europe and has been spotted in eastern and southern Germany. Unsuccessful thus far in recolonizing these areas via natural dispersal from source populations in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Slovakia, it appears to be having more success migrating south into the Caucasus. It is listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention.
In 2008, two moose were reintroduced into the Scottish Highlands in Alladale Wilderness Reserve.
The east-Asian moose population confines itself mostly on the territory of the Russian Federation, but also in northern Mongolia and north eastern China. Moose populations are relatively stable in Siberia and increasing on the Kamchatka peninsula. In Mongolia and China, where poaching took a great toll on moose, forcing them to near extinction, they are protected.]
[ In 1978, as part of a breeding project of the Regional Hunting Department transported 45 young moose to the center of Kamchatka. These moose were brought from Chukotka, home to the largest moose on the planet. Kamchatka now regularly is responsible for the largest trophy moose shot around the world each season. Being a fertile environment for moose, with a milder climate, less snow, and an abundance of food, moose quickly bred and settled along the valley of the Kamchatka River and many surrounding regions. The population in the past 20 years has risen to over 2900 animals.
The size of the moose varies. Following bergmann's rule, population in the south (A. a. cameloides
), usually grow smaller, while moose in the north and north-east (A. a. burulini
) can match the imposing sizes of the Alaskan moose(A. a. gigas
) and are prized by trophy hunters.]
In 1900, an attempt to introduce moose into the Hokitika area failed; then in 1910 ten moose, four bulls and six cows, were introduced into Fiordland. This area is considered a less-than suitable habitat; and subsequent low numbers of sightings and kills has led to some presumption of this population's failure. The last proven sighting of a moose in New Zealand was in 1952. A moose antler was found in 1972 and DNA tests showed that hair collected in 2002 was from a moose. Extensive searching has been carried out and while automated cameras failed to capture photographs, evidence was seen of bedding spots, browsing and antler marks.
Europe and Asia
The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume 9770 Calories per day to maintain its body weight. Much of a moose's energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life. In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter. A typical moose, weighing 360 kg (790 lb), can eat up to 32 kg (71 lb) of food per day.
Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food. A moose's upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and the lip is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all.
A moose's diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others. Many aquatic plants include lilies and pondweed. Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. In non polar regions this trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and water to wet themselves in. Moose have been known to dive underwater to reach plants on lake bottoms, and the complex snout may assist the moose in this type of feeding. Moose are the only deer that are capable of feeding underwater.
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.
In the North Siberian elk (A. a. bedfordiae
), the posterior division of the main fork divides into three tines, with no distinct flattening. In the common elk (A. a. alces
) this branch usually expands into a broad palmation, with one large tine at the base, and a number of smaller snags on the free border. There is, however, a Scandinavian breed of the common elk in which the antlers are simpler and recall those of the East Siberian animals.
The palmation appears to be more marked in North American moose (A. a. americanus
) than in the typical Scandinavian elk.
The male will drop its antlers after the mating season and conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will then regrow in the spring. Antlers take three to five months to fully develop, making them one of the fastest growing animal organs. They initially have a layer of skin, called "velvet," which is shed once the antlers become fully grown. Immature bulls may not shed their antlers for the winter, but retain them until the following spring.
If a bull moose is castrated, either by accidental or chemical means, he will quickly shed his current set of antlers and then immediately begin to grow a new set of misshapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again. The distinctive looking appendages (often referred to as "devil's antlers") are the source of several myths and legends among many groups of Inuit as well as several other tribes of indigenous peoples of North America.
In extremely rare circumstances, a cow moose may grow antlers. This is usually attributed to a hormone imbalance.
On average, an adult moose stands 1.4–2.1 m (4.6–6.9 ft) high at the shoulder, which is more than a foot higher than the next largest deer on average, the Elk. Males (or "bulls") weigh 380–700 kg (840–1,500 lb) and females (or "cows") typically weigh 200–360 kg (440–790 lb). The head-and-body length is 2.4–3.2 m (7.9–10 ft), with the vestigial tail adding only a further 5–12 cm (2.0–4.7 in). The largest of all the races is the Alaskan subspecies (A. a. gigas
), which can stand over 2.1 m (7 ft) at the shoulder, has a span across the antlers of 1.8 m (6 ft) and averages 634.5 kg (1,396 lbs) in males and 478 kg (1,052 lbs) in females. Typically, however, the antlers of a mature bull are between 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and 1.5 m (4.9 ft). The largest confirmed size for this species was a bull shot at the Yukon River in September 1897 that weighed 820 kg (1,800 lb) and measured 2.33 m (7.6 ft) high at the shoulder. There have been reported cases of even larger moose, including a bull that reportedly scaled 1,180 kg (2,600 lb), but none are authenticated and may not be considered reliable. Behind only the bison, the moose is the second largest land animal in both North America and Europe.
Moose are mostly diurnal. They are generally solitary with the strongest bonds between mother and calf. Although moose rarely gather in groups, there may be several in close proximity during the mating season.
Mating occurs in September and October. The males are polygamous and will seek several females to breed with. During this times both sexes will call to each other. Males produce heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away, while females produce wail-like sounds. Males will fight for access to females. They either assess which is larger, with the smaller bull retreating, or they may engage in battles, usually only involving the antlers.
Female moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is plentiful, in May or June. Newborn moose have fur with a reddish hue in contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born. The life span of an average moose is about 15–25 years.
Calves nursing in spring.
Calves stay near their mothers at all times.
This calf almost ready to leave its mother.
This yearling probably recently chased away by its mother.
Moose are not usually aggressive towards humans, but can be provoked or frightened to behave with aggression. In terms of raw numbers, they attack more people than bears and wolves combined, but usually with only minor consequences. In the Americas, moose injure more people than any other wild mammal and, worldwide, only hippopotamuses injure more. When harassed or startled by people or in the presence of a dog, moose may charge. Also, as with bears or any wild animal, moose that have become habituated to being fed by people may act aggressively when denied food. During the fall mating season, bull moose may be aggressive toward humans due to the high hormone levels they experience. Cows with young calves are very protective and will attack humans who come too close, especially if they come between mother and calf. Unlike other dangerous animals, moose are not territorial, and do not view humans as food, and will therefore usually not pursue humans if they simply run away.
Like any wild animal, moose are unpredictable and should be given a respectful amount of space. They are most likely to attack if annoyed or harassed, or if their "personal space" has been encroached upon. Moose that have been harassed may vent their anger on unwary victims, and often do not make distinctions between their tormentors and innocent passers-by. Moose are very limber animals with highly flexible joints and sharp, pointed hooves, and are capable of kicking with both front and back legs. Unlike other large, hooved mammals, such as horses, moose can kick in all directions including sideways. Therefore, there is no safe side from which to approach. However, moose often give warning signs prior to attacking, displaying their aggression by means of body language. The maintaining of eye contact is usually the first sign of aggression, while laid-back ears or a lowered head is a definite sign of agitation. If the hairs on the back of the moose's neck and shoulders (hackles) stand up, a charge is usually imminent. The Anchorage Visitor Centers warn tourists that "...a moose with its hackles raised is a thing to fear."
Studies suggest that the calls made by female moose during the rut not only call the males but can actually induce a bull to invade another bull's harem and fight for control of it. This in turn means that the cow moose has at least a small degree of control over which bulls she mates with.
Moose often show aggression to other animals as well; especially predators. Bears are common predators of moose calves and, rarely, adults. Alaskan moose have been reported to successfully fend off attacks from black bears, brown bears and grizzlies. Moose have been known to stomp attacking wolves, which makes them less preferred as prey to the wolves. Moose are fully capable of killing bears and wolves. A moose of either sex that is confronted by danger may let out a loud roar, more resembling that of a predator than a prey animal. European moose are often more aggressive than North American moose, such as the moose in Sweden, which often become very agitated at the sight of a predator. However, like all ungulates known to attack predators, the more aggressive individuals are always darker in color.
A full-grown moose has few enemies, but a pack of wolves can still pose a threat, especially to females with calves. Siberian Tigers and brown bear are also known to prey on moose, although bears are more likely to take over a wolf kill or to take young moose than to hunt adult moose on their own. American black bears and cougars can be significant predators of moose calves in May and June and can, in rare instances, predate adults (mainly cows). Wolverine are most likely to eat moose as carrion but have killed moose, including adults, when the large ungulates are weakened by harsh winter conditions. Killer whales are the moose's only known marine predator as they have been known to prey on them when swimming between islands out of North America's Northwest Coast.
In some areas, moose are the primary source of food for wolves. Moose usually flee upon detecting wolves. Wolves usually follow moose at a distance of 100 to 400 metres (330 to 1,300 ft), occasionally at a distance of 2 to 3 kilometres (1.2 to 1.9 mi). Attacks from wolves against young moose may last seconds, though sometimes they can be drawn out for days with adults. Sometimes, wolves will chase moose into shallow streams or onto frozen rivers, where their mobility is greatly impeded. Moose will sometimes stand their ground and defend themselves by charging at the wolves or lashing out at them with their powerful hooves. Wolves typically kill moose by tearing at their haunches and perineum, causing massive blood loss. Occasionally, a wolf may immobilise a moose by biting its sensitive nose, the pain of which can paralyze a moose. Wolf packs primarily target calves and elderly animals, but can and will take healthy, adult moose. Moose between the ages of two and eight are seldom killed by wolves. Though moose are usually hunted by packs, there are cases in which single wolves have successfully killed healthy, fully-grown moose.
Research into moose predation suggests that their response to perceived threats is learned rather than instinctual. In practical terms this means moose are more vulnerable in areas where wolf or bear populations were decimated in the past but are now rebounding. These same studies suggest, however, that moose learn quickly and adapt, fleeing an area if they hear or smell wolves, bears, or scavenger birds such as ravens.
European rock drawings and cave paintings reveal that moose have been hunted since the Stone Age. Excavations in Alby, Sweden, adjacent to the Stora Alvaret have yielded elk antlers in wooden hut remains from 6000 BCE, indicating some of the earliest elk hunting in northern Europe. In northern Scandinavia one can still find remains of trapping pits used for hunting elk. These pits, which can be up to 4 × 7 m wide and 2 m deep, would have been camouflaged with branches and leaves. They would have had steep sides lined with planks, making it impossible for the elk to escape once it fell in. The pits are normally found in large groups, crossing the elk's regular paths and stretching over several kilometres. Remains of wooden fences designed to guide the animals toward the pits have been found in bogs and peat. In Norway, an early example of these trapping devices has been dated to around 3,700 BC. Trapping elk in pits is an extremely effective hunting method, and as early as the 16th century the Norwegian government tried to restrict their use. Nevertheless, the method was in use until the 19th century.
The earliest recorded description of the elk is in Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico
, where it is described thus:
There are also [animals], which are called elks. The shape of these, and the varied colour of their skins, is much like roes, but in size they surpass them a little and are destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them ; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them.
In book 8, chapter 16 of Pliny the Elder's Natural History
from 77 AD the elk and an animal called achlis, which is presumably the same animal, are described thus:
...there is, also, the elk, which strongly resembles our steers, except that it is distinguished by the length of the ears and of the neck. There is also the achlis, which is produced in the land of Scandinavia; it has never been seen in this city, although we have had descriptions of it from many persons; it is not unlike the elk, but has no joints in the hind leg. Hence, it never lies down, but reclines against a tree while it sleeps; it can only be taken by previously cutting into the tree, and thus laying a trap for it, as otherwise, it would escape through its swiftness. Its upper lip is so extremely large, for which reason it is obliged to go backwards when grazing; otherwise, by moving onwards, the lip would get doubled up.
Moose are hunted as a game species in many of the countries where they are found. Moose meat tastes, wrote Henry David Thoreau in “The Maine Woods”, “like tender beef, with perhaps more flavour; sometimes like veal”. While the flesh has protein levels similar to other comparable red meats (e.g. beef, deer and elk) it has a low fat content and the fat that is found is made up of a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats (rather than saturated fats).
Cadmium levels are high in Finnish elk liver and kidneys, with the result that consumption of these organs from elk more than one year old is prohibited in Finland. Cadmium intake has been found to be elevated amongst all consumers of elk meat, though the elk meat was found to contribute only slightly to the daily cadmium intake. However the consumption of moose liver or kidneys significantly increased cadmium intake, with the study revealing that heavy consumers of moose organs have a relatively narrow safety margin below the levels which would probably cause adverse health effects.
Dr. Valerius Geist, who emigrated to Canada from the Soviet Union, wrote in his 1999 book Moose: Behaviour, Ecology, Conservation
Those who care most passionately about moose are hunters, in particular people who live in wilderness and rural communities and those who depend on moose for food. In Sweden, no fall menu is without a mouthwatering moose dish. The Swedes fence their highways to reduce moose fatalities and design moose-proof cars. Sweden is less than half as large as the Canadian province of British Columbia, but the annual take of moose in Sweden – upward of 150,000 – is twice that of the total moose harvest in North America. That is how much Swedes cherish their moose.
Boosting of moose populations in Alaska for hunting purposes is one of the reasons given for allowing aerial or airborne methods to remove wolves in designated areas, e.g., Craig Medred: "A kill of 124 wolves would thus translate to [the survival of] 1488 moose or 2976 caribou or some combination thereof". Many scientists believe that this artificial inflation of game populations is actually detrimental to both caribou and moose populations as well as the ecosystem as a whole. This is because studies have shown that when these game populations are artificially boosted, it leads to both habitat destruction and a crash in these populations.
A moose's body structure, with a large heavy body suspended on long spindly legs, makes these animals particularly dangerous when hit by passenger cars with low ground clearances. Generally, when colliding with a moose at high speed, the car's bumper and front grille will break the moose's legs, causing the body of the moose to fall onto the car's hood and delivering the bulk of the animal's weight into the windshield, crushing the front roof support beams and anyone in the front seats. Collisions of this type are frequently lethal; seatbelts offer no protection, and airbags may not deploy or be of much use if they do. Although vehicles with higher clearances (such as trucks) are typically immune from this effect, the force of striking any 270+ kg (600+ pound) object at high speed should not be underestimated. These risks led to the development of a vehicle test referred to as the "moose test" (Swedish: , German: ).
Moose warning signs are used on roads in regions where there is a danger of collision with the animal. The triangular warning signs common in Sweden, Norway, and Finland have become coveted souvenirs among tourists traveling in these countries, causing the road authorities so much expense that the moose signs have been replaced with image-less generic warning signs in some regions.
In January 2008, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten
estimated that some 13,000 moose had died in collisions with Norwegian trains since 2000. The state agency in charge of railroad infrastructure (Jernbaneverket) plans to spend 80 million Norwegian kroner to reduce collision rate in the future by fencing the railways, clearing vegetation from near the tracks, and providing alternative snow-free feeding places for the animals elsewhere.
In the Canadian province of New Brunswick, collisions with moose are frequent enough that all new highways have fences to prevent moose from accessing the road, similar to how it has long been done in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Demonstratively, Highway 7 between Fredericton and Saint John, which has one of the highest frequencies of moose collisions in the province, did not have these fences until 2008, although it was and continues to be extremely well signed. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it is recommended to motorists to use caution between dusk and dawn, because that is when moose are most active and most difficult to see, increasing the risk of collisions. Local moose sightings are often reported on radio stations so that motorists can take care while driving in particular areas.
In Sweden, a fence will not be placed unless the road meets the minimum requirement of one accident, involving a moose, per kilometre road and year.
Domestication of moose was investigated in the Soviet Union before World War II. Early experiments were inconclusive, but with the creation of a moose farm at Pechora-Ilych Nature Reserve in 1949 a small-scale moose domestication program was started, involving attempts at selective breeding of animals based on their behavioural characteristics. Since 1963, the programme has continued at Kostroma Moose Farm, which had a herd of 33 tame moose as of 2003. Although at this stage the farm is not expected to be a profit-making enterprise, it obtains some income from the sale of moose milk and from visiting tourist groups. Its main value, however, is seen in the opportunities it offers for the research in the physiology and behaviour of the moose, as well as in the insights it provides into the general principles of animal domestication.
In Sweden, there was a debate in the late 18th century about the national value of using the moose as a domestic animal. Among other things, the moose was proposed to be used in postal distribution, and there was a suggestion to develop a moose-mounted cavalry. Such proposals remained unimplemented, mainly because the extensive hunting for moose nearly drove it to extinction and because of moose aggressiveness during the rutting period.
Moose are an old genus. Like its relatives, Odocoileus
, the genus Alces
gave rise to very few species which endured for long periods of time. This differs from the Megacerines
, such as the Irish elk, which evolved many species before going extinct. Some scientists, such as Adrian Lister, grouped all the species as one genus, the Alcinae, while others, such as Augusto Azzaroli, used the term "alces" for the living species, placing the fossile species into the subgenera "Cervalces"
The earliest known species is Libralces gallicus
(French moose), which lived in the Pliocene epoch, about 2 million years ago. Libralces gallicus
came from the warm savannahs of Pliocene Europe, with the best preserved skeletons being found in southern France. Libralces gallicus
was 1.25 times larger than the Alaskan moose in linear dimensions, making it nearly twice as massive. Libralces gallicus
had many striking differences compared to its modern descendants. It had a longer, narrower snout and a less-developed nasal cavity, more resembling that of a modern deer, lacking any sign of the modern moose-snout. Its face resembled that of the modern wapiti. However, the rest of its skull structure, skeletal structure and teeth bore strong resemblance to those features that are unmistakable in modern moose, indicating a similar diet. Its antlers consisted of a 2 1/2 meter long horizontal bar, with no tines, ending in small palmations. Its skull and neck structure suggest an animal that fought using high-speed impacts, much like the dall sheep, rather than locking and twisting antlers the way modern moose combat. Their long legs and bone structure suggest an animal that was adapted to running at high speeds over rough terrain.
existed until the middle Pleistocene epoch, and were followed briefly by a species called Cervalces carnutorum
. The main differences between the two consisted of shortening of the horizontal bar in the antlers, and broadening of the palmations, indicating a likely change from open plains to more forested environments, and skeletal changes that suggest an adaptation to marshy environments.
was soon followed by a much larger species called Cervalces latifrons
(broad-fronted stag-moose). The Pleistocene epoch was a time of gigantism, in which most species were much larger than their descendants of today, including exceptionally large lions, hippopotamuses, mammoths, and deer. Many fossiles of Cervalces latifrons
have been found in Siberia, dating from about 1.2 to 0.5 million years ago. This is most likely the time at which the species migrated from the Eurasian continent to North America. Like its descendants, it inhabited mostly northern latitudes, and was probably well-adapted to the cold. Cervalces latifrons
was the largest deer known to have ever existed, standing more than 2.1 meters tall at the shoulders. This is bigger than even the Irish elk, which was 1.8 meters tall at the shoulders. Its antlers were smaller than the Irish elk, but comparable in size to Libralces gallicus
. However, the antlers had a shorter horizontal bar and larger palmations, more resembling that of a modern moose.
(modern moose) appeared during the late Pleistocene epoch. The species arrived in North America at the end of the Pleistocene, and coexisted with a late-surviving species of Cervalces latifrons
, which Azzaroli classified as a separate species called Cervalces scotti
, or the American stag-moose.
various Cervus elaphus subspecies
The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species of the Cervidae or deer family in the world, and one of the largest land mammals in North America and eastern Asia. It was long believed to be a subspecies of the European red deer (Cervus elaphus), but evidence from a 2004 study of the mitochondrial DNA indicates that the two are distinct species.
This animal should not be confused with the larger moose (Alces alces), to which the name "elk" applies in Eurasia. Apart from the moose, the only other member of the deer family to rival the elk in size is the south Asian sambar (Rusa unicolor).
Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Although native to North America and eastern Asia, they have adapted well to countries where they have been introduced, including Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. Their great adaptability may threaten endemic species and ecosystems into which they have been introduced.
Male elk have large antlers which are shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations which establishes dominance over other males and attracts females.
Elk are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmitted to livestock. Efforts to eliminate infectious diseases from elk populations, largely through vaccination, have had mixed success.
Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.
Early European explorers in North America, who were familiar with the smaller red deer of Europe, thought that the larger North American animal resembled a moose, and consequently gave it the name elk, which is the common European name for moose. The word elk is related to the Latin alces, Old Norse elgr, Scandinavian elg/älg and German Elch, all of which refer to the animal known in North America as the moose.
The name wapiti is from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning "white rump". This name is used in particular for the Asian subspecies (Altai wapiti, Tian Shan wapiti, Manchurian wapiti and Alashan wapiti), because in Eurasia the name elk continues to be used for the moose.
Asian subspecies are sometimes referred to as the maral, but this name applies primarily to the Caspian red deer (Cervus elaphus maral), a subspecies of red deer. There is a subspecies of elk in Mongolia called the Altai wapiti (Cervus canadensis sibiricus), also known as the Altai maral, Siberian wapiti or Siberian elk.][ (This usage of "Siberian elk" is ambiguous, since the name also refers to Alces alces ssp. cameloides.)
Members of the genus Cervus (and hence early relatives or possible ancestors of the elk) first appear in the fossil record 25 million years ago, during the Oligocene in Eurasia, but do not appear in the North American fossil record until the early Miocene. The extinct Irish Elk (Megaloceros) was not a member of the genus Cervus, but rather the largest member of the wider deer family (Cervidae) known from the fossil record.
Until recently, red deer and elk were considered to be one species, Cervus elaphus. However, mitochondrial DNA studies, conducted on hundreds of samples in 2004 from red deer and elk subspecies as well as other species of the Cervus deer family, strongly indicate that elk, or wapiti, should be a distinct species, namely Cervus canadensis. The previous classification had over a dozen subspecies under the C. elaphus species designation; DNA evidence concludes that elk are more closely related to Thorold's deer and even sika deer than they are to the red deer. Though elk and red deer can produce fertile offspring in captivity, geographic isolation between the species in the wild and differences in mating behaviors indicate that reproduction between them outside a controlled environment would be unlikely. However, the two species have freely inter-bred in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park, where the cross-bred animals have all but removed the pure elk blood from the area.
There are numerous subspecies of elk described, with six from North America and four from Asia, although some taxonomists consider them different ecotypes or races of the same species (adapted to local environments through minor changes in appearance and behavior). Populations vary as to antler shape and size, body size, coloration and mating behavior. DNA investigations of the Eurasian subspecies revealed that phenotypic variation in antlers, mane and rump patch development are based on "climatic-related lifestyle factors". Of the six subspecies of elk known to have inhabited North America in historical times, four remain, including the Roosevelt (C. canadensis roosevelti), Tule (C. canadensis nannodes), Manitoban (C. canadensis manitobensis) and Rocky Mountain (C. canadensis nelsoni). The Eastern elk (C. canadensis canadensis) and Merriam's Elk (C. canadensis merriami) subspecies have been extinct for at least a century.
Four subspecies described in Asia include the Altai Wapiti (C. canadensis sibiricus) and the Tianshan Wapiti (C. canadensis songaricus) . Two distinct subspecies found in China and Korea are the Manchurian wapiti (C. canadensis xanthopygus) and the Alashan wapitis (C. canadensis alashanicus). The Manchurian wapiti is darker and more reddish in coloration than the other populations. The Alashan wapiti of north central China is the smallest of all subspecies, has the lightest coloration and is the least studied. Biologist Valerius Geist, who has written on the world's various deer species, holds that there are only three subspecies of elk. Geist recognizes the Manchurian and Alashan wapiti but places all other elk into C. canadensis canadensis, claiming that classification of the four surviving North American groups as subspecies is driven, at least partly, for political purposes to secure individualized conservation and protective measures for each of the surviving populations.
Recent DNA studies suggest that there are no more than three or four subspecies of elk. All American forms seem to belong to one subspecies (Cervus canadensis canadensis). Even the Siberian elk (Cervus canadensis sibiricus) are more or less identical to the American forms and therefore may belong to this subspecies, too. However the Manchurian wapiti (Cervus canadensis xanthopygus) is clearly distinct from the Siberian forms, but not distinguishable from the Alashan wapiti. The Chinese forms MacNeill's Deer, Kansu red deer, and Tibetan red deer belong also to the wapitis and were not distinguishable from each other by mitochondrial DNA studies. These Chinese subspecies are sometimes treated as a distinct species, namely the Central Asian Red Deer (Cervus wallichi), which also includes the Kashmir stag.
The elk is a large animal of the ungulate order Artiodactyla, possessing an even number of toes on each foot, similar to those of camels, goats and cattle. It is a ruminant species, with a four-chambered stomach, and feeds on grasses, plants, leaves and bark. During the summer, elk eat almost constantly, consuming between 4 and 7 kilograms (8.8 and 15 lb) daily. In North America, males are called bulls, and females are called cows. In Asia, stag and hind, respectively, are sometimes used instead.
Elk are more than twice as heavy as mule deer and have a more reddish hue to their hair coloring, as well as large, buff colored rump patches and smaller tails. Moose are larger and darker than elk; bulls have distinctively different antlers. Elk gather in herds, while moose are solitary. Elk cows average 225 to 241 kg (500 to 530 lb), stand 1.3 m (4.3 ft) at the shoulder, and are 2.1 m (6.9 ft) from nose to tail. Bulls are some 40% larger than cows at maturity, weighing an average of 320 to 331 kg (710 to 730 lb), standing 1.5 m (4.9 ft) at the shoulder and averaging 2.45 m (8.0 ft) in length. The largest of the subspecies is the Roosevelt elk (C. c. roosevelti), found west of the Cascade Range in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Roosevelt elk have been reintroduced into Alaska, where the largest males are estimated to weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lb). More typically, male Roosevelt elks weigh around 300 to 544 kg (660 to 1,200 lb), while females weigh 260 to 285 kg (570 to 630 lb). The smallest-bodied race is the Tule elk (C. c. nannodes), which weighs from 170 to 250 kg (370 to 550 lb) in both sexes.
Only the males have antlers, which start growing in the spring and are shed each winter. The largest antlers may be 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) long and weigh 18 kilograms (40 lb). Antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 2.5 centimetres (0.98 in) per day. While actively growing, the antlers are covered with and protected by a soft layer of highly vascularised skin known as velvet. The velvet is shed in the summer when the antlers have fully developed. Bull elk may have eight or more tines on each antler; however, the number of tines has little to do with the age or maturity of a particular animal. The Siberian and North American elk carry the largest antlers while the Altai wapiti have the smallest. The formation and retention of antlers is testosterone-driven. After the breeding season in late fall, the level of pheromones released during estrus declines in the environment and the testosterone levels of males drop as a consequence. This drop in testosterone leads to the shedding of antlers, usually in the early winter.
During the fall, elk grow a thicker coat of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter. Males, females and calves of Siberian and North American elk all grow thin neck manes; female and young Manchurian and Alashan wapitis do not. By early summer, the heavy winter coat has been shed, and elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. All elk have small and clearly defined rump patches with short tails. They have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with gray or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish, darker coat in the summer. Subspecies living in arid climates tend to have lighter colored coats than do those living in forests. Most have lighter yellow-brown to orange-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer. Forest-adapted Manchurian and Alashan wapitis have darker reddish-brown coats with less contrast between the body coat and the rest of the body during the summer months. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and they lose their spots by the end of summer. Adult Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. This characteristic has also been observed in the forest-adapted European red deer.
Adult elk usually stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. During the mating period known as the rut, mature bulls compete for the attentions of the cow elk and will try to defend females in their harem. Rival bulls challenge opponents by bellowing and by paralleling each other, walking back and forth. This allows potential combatants to assess the other's antlers, body size and fighting prowess. If neither bull backs down, they engage in antler wrestling, and bulls sometimes sustain serious injuries. Bulls also dig holes in the ground, in which they urinate and roll their body. A male elk's urethra points upward so that urine is sprayed almost at a right angle to the penis. The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.
Dominant bulls follow groups of cows during the rut, from August into early winter. A bull will defend his harem of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators. Only mature bulls have large harems and breeding success peaks at about eight years of age. Bulls between two to four years and over 11 years of age rarely have harems, and spend most of the rut on the periphery of larger harems. Young and old bulls that do acquire a harem hold it later in the breeding season than do bulls in their prime. A bull with a harem rarely feeds and he may lose up to 20 percent of his body weight. Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to make it through to the peak conception period or have the strength to survive the rigors of the oncoming winter.
Bulls have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles. Bugling is often associated with an adaptation to open environments such as parklands, meadows, and savannas, where sound can travel great distances. Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and have the loudest call. Bugling is most common early and late in the day and is one of the most distinctive sounds in nature, akin to the howl of the gray wolf.
Female elk have a short estrus cycle of only a day or two, and matings usually involve a dozen or more attempts. By the autumn of their second year, females can produce one and, very rarely, two offspring, although reproduction is most common when cows weigh at least 200 kilograms (440 lb). The gestation period is 240 to 262 days and the offspring weigh between 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb). When the females are near to giving birth, they tend to isolate themselves from the main herd, and will remain isolated until the calf is large enough to escape predators. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and they lose their spots by the end of summer. Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. After two weeks, calves are able to join the herd, and are fully weaned at two months of age. Elk calves are as large as an adult white-tailed deer by the time they are six months old. The offspring will remain with their mothers for almost a year, leaving about the time that the next season's offspring are produced. The gestation period is the same for all subspecies.
Elk live 20 years or more in captivity but average 10 to 13 years in the wild. In some subspecies that suffer less predation, they may live an average of 15 years in the wild.
Wolf and coyote packs and the solitary cougar are the most likely predators, although brown and black bears also prey on elk. Coyote packs mostly prey on elk calves, though they can sometimes take a winter-weakened adult. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which includes Yellowstone National Park, bears are the most significant predators of calves. Major predators in Asia include the wolf, dhole, brown bear, Siberian tiger, Amur Leopard, and Snow Leopard. Eurasian Lynx and Wild boar sometimes prey on Asian elk calves. Historically, tigers in the Lake Baikal region fed on Manchurian wapiti, and continue to do so in the Amur region.
Male elk retain their antlers for more than half the year and are less likely to group with other males when they have antlers. Antlers provide a means of defense, as does a strong front-leg kick, which is performed by either sex if provoked. Once the antlers have been shed, bulls tend to form bachelor groups which allow them to work cooperatively at fending off predators. Herds tend to employ one or more scouts while the remaining members eat and rest.
After the rut, females form large herds of up to 50 individuals. Newborn calves are kept close by a series of vocalizations; larger nurseries have an ongoing and constant chatter during the daytime hours. When approached by predators, the largest and most robust females may make a stand, using their front legs to kick at their attackers. Guttural grunts and posturing effectively deter all but the most determined predators.
As is true for many species of deer, especially those in mountainous regions, elk migrate into areas of higher altitude in the spring, following the retreating snows, and the opposite direction in the fall. Hunting pressure also impacts migration and movements. During the winter, they favor wooded areas and sheltered valleys for protection from the wind and availability of tree bark to eat. Roosevelt elk are generally non-migratory due to less seasonal variability of food sources.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk herd numbers over 200,000 individuals and during the spring and fall, they take part in the longest elk migration in the continental U.S. Elk in the southern regions of Yellowstone National Park and in the surrounding National Forests migrate south towards the town of Jackson, Wyoming where they winter for up to six months on the National Elk Refuge. Conservationists there ensure the herd is well fed during the harsh winters. Many of the elk that reside in the northern sections of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem migrate to lower altitudes in Montana, mainly to the north and west.
Elk are ruminants and therefore have four-chambered stomachs. Unlike white-tailed deer and moose which are primarily browsers, elk have a similarity to cattle as they are primarily grazers, but like other deer, they also browse. Elk have a tendency to do most of their feeding in the mornings and evenings, seeking sheltered areas in between feedings to digest. Their diets vary somewhat depending on the season with native grasses being a year round supplement, tree bark being consumed in winter and forbs and tree sprouts during the summer. Elk consume an average of 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) of various vegetation daily. Particularly fond of Aspen sprouts which rise in the spring, elk have had some impact on Aspen groves which have been declining in some regions where elk exist.
Range and wildlife managers conduct surveys of elk pellet groups to monitor populations and resource use.
At least 53 species of protist and animal parasites have been identified in elk. Most of these parasites seldom lead to significant mortality among wild or captive elk. Parelaphostrongylus tenuis (brainworm or meningeal worm) is a parasitic nematode known to affect the spinal cord and brain tissue of elk and other species, leading to death. The definitive host is the white-tailed deer, in which it normally has no ill effects. Snails and slugs, the intermediate hosts, can be inadvertently consumed by elk during grazing. The liver fluke Fascioloides magna and the nematode Dictyocaulus viviparus are also commonly found parasites that can be fatal to elk. Since infection by either of these parasites can be lethal to some commercial livestock species, their presence in elk herds is of some concern.
Chronic wasting disease, transmitted by a misfolded protein known as a prion, affects the brain tissue in elk, and has been detected throughout their range in North America. First documented in the late 1960s in mule deer, the disease has affected elk on game farms and in the wild in a number of regions. Elk that have contracted the disease begin to show weight loss, increased watering needs, disorientation and listlessness, and at an advanced stage the disease leads to death. The disease is similar to but not the same as mad cow disease, and no risks to humans have been documented, nor has the disease been demonstrated to pose a threat to domesticated cattle. In 2002, South Korea banned the importation of elk antler velvet due to concerns about chronic wasting disease.
The Gram-negative bacterial disease brucellosis occasionally affects elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the only place in the U.S. where the disease is still known to exist. In domesticated cattle, brucellosis causes infertility, abortions and reduced milk production. It is transmitted to humans as undulant fever, producing flu-like symptoms which may last for years. Though bison are more likely to transmit the disease to other animals, elk inadvertently transmitted brucellosis to horses in Wyoming and cattle in Idaho. Researchers are attempting to eradicate the disease through vaccinations and herd management measures, which are expected to be successful.
A recent necropsy study of captive elk in Pennsylvania attributed the cause of death in 33 of 65 cases to either gastrointestinal parasites (21 cases, primarily Eimeria sp. and Ostertagia sp.) or bacterial infections (12 cases, mostly pneumonia).
Modern subspecies are descended from elk that once inhabited Beringia, a steppe region between Asia and North America that connected the two continents during the Pleistocene. Beringia provided a migratory route for numerous mammal species, including brown bear, caribou, and moose, as well as humans. As the Pleistocene came to an end, ocean levels began to rise; elk migrated southwards into Asia and North America. In North America they adapted to almost all ecosystems except for tundra, true deserts, and the gulf coast of the U.S. The elk of southern Siberia and central Asia were once more widespread but today are restricted to the mountain ranges west of Lake Baikal including the Sayan and Altai Mountains of Mongolia and the Tianshan region that borders Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China's Xinjiang Province. The habitat of Siberian elk in Asia is similar to that of the Rocky Mountain subspecies in North America.
Throughout their range, they live in forest and in forest edge habitat, similar to other deer species. In mountainous regions, they often dwell at higher elevations in summer, migrating down slope for winter. The highly adaptable elk also inhabit semi-deserts in North America, such as the Great Basin. Manchurian and Alashan wapiti are primarily forest dwellers and their smaller antler sizes is a likely adaptation to a forest environment.
The Rocky Mountain elk subspecies has been reintroduced by hunter-conservation organizations in the Appalachian region of the eastern U.S., where the now extinct Eastern elk once lived After elk were reintroduced in the states of Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee, they migrated into the neighboring states of Virginia and West Virginia, and have established permanent populations there. Elk have also been reintroduced to a number of other states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Etolin and Afognak Islands in Alaska. As of 1989, population figures for the Rocky Mountain subspecies were 782,500, and estimated numbers for all North American subspecies exceeded 1 million. Prior to the European colonization of North America, there were an estimated 10 million elk on the continent.
Outside their native habitat, elk and other deer species, especially white tails were introduced in areas that previously had few if any large native ungulates. Brought to these countries for hunting and ranching for meat, hides and antler velvet, they have proven highly adaptable and have often had an adverse impact on local ecosystems. Elk and red deer were introduced to Argentina in the early 20th century. There they are now considered an invasive species, encroaching on Argentinian ecosystems where they compete for food with the indigenous Chilean Huemul and other herbivores. This negative impact on native animal species has led the IUCN to identify the elk as one of the world's 100 worst invaders. Both elk and red deer have also been introduced into Australia.
The introduction of deer to New Zealand began in the middle of the 19th century, and current populations are primarily European red deer, with only 15 percent being elk. There is significant hybridization of elk with the more numerous red deer to the extent that pure elk may no longer exist in the wild in New Zealand. These deer have had an adverse impact on forest regeneration of some plant species, as they consume more palatable species which are replaced with those that are less favored by the elk. The long term impact will be an alteration of the types of plants and trees found, and in other animal and plant species dependent upon them. As in Chile and Argentina, the IUCN has declared that red deer and elk populations in New Zealand are an invasive species.
Elk have played an important role in the cultural history of a number of peoples. Pictograms and petroglyphs of elk were carved into cliffs thousands of years ago by the Anasazi of the southwestern U.S. More recent Native American tribes, including the Kootenai, Cree, Blackfeet, Ojibwa and Pawnee, produced blankets and robes from elk hides. The elk was of particular importance to the Lakota, and played a spiritual role in their society. At birth, Lakota males were given an elk's tooth to promote a long life since that was seen as the last part of dead elk to rot away. The elk was seen as having strong sexual potency and young Lakota males who had dreamed of elk would have an image of the mythical representation of the elk on their "courting coats" as a sign of sexual prowess. The Lakota believed that the mythical or spiritual elk, not the physical one, was the teacher of men and the embodiment of strength, sexual prowess and courage.
Neolithic petroglyphs from Asia depict antler-less female elk, which have been interpreted as symbolizing rebirth and sustenance. By the beginning of the Bronze Age, the elk is depicted less frequently in rock art, coinciding with a cultural transformation away from hunting.
The Rocky Mountain Elk is the official state animal for Utah. An image of an elk and a moose appear on the state flag of Michigan. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.) chose the elk as its namesake because a number of its attributes seemed appropriate for cultivation by members of the fraternity. A representation of the majestic head of the male, with its spreading antlers, was adopted as the first badge of the Order; and is still the most conspicuous element of its copyrighted fraternal emblem. A prized possession of many members of the B.P.O.E. are jewel encrusted, gold mounted elk teeth – which are actually ivory.
Although breakdown figures for each game species are not available in the 2006 National Survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting of wild elk is most likely the primary economic impact.
Elk are held in captivity, or farmed, for hunting, meat production and velvet collection. In what is known as a canned hunt, a hunter pays a fee for an essentially guaranteed chance to shoot an elk in an escape-proof range. While elk are not generally harvested for meat production on a large scale, some restaurants offer the meat as a specialty item and it is also available in some grocery stores. The meat has a taste somewhere between beef and venison and is higher in protein and lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork, and chicken. Elk meat is also a good source of iron, phosphorus and zinc.
A male elk can produce 10 to 11 kilograms (22 to 24 lb) of antler velvet annually and on ranches in the United States, Canada and New Zealand, this velvet is collected and sold to markets in East Asia, where it is used in medicine. Velvet is also considered by some cultures to be an aphrodisiac. However, consuming velvet from elk in North America may be risky since velvet from animals infected with chronic wasting disease may contain prions that could result in a human getting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Antlers are also used in artwork, furniture and other novelty items. All Asian subspecies, along with other deer, have been raised for their antlers in central and eastern Asia by Han Chinese, Turkic peoples, Tungusic peoples, Mongolians, and Koreans. Elk farms are relatively common in North America and New Zealand.
Elk hides have been used for thousands of years for tepee covering, blankets, clothing and footwear. Modern uses are more decorative, but elk skin shoes, gloves and belts are not uncommon.
Since 1967, the Boy Scouts of America have assisted employees at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming by collecting the antlers which are shed each winter. The antlers are then auctioned with 80% of the proceeds returned to the refuge. In 2010, 2,520 kilograms (5,600 lb) of antlers were auctioned, bringing in over $46,000.
The snowshoe hare
), also called the varying hare
, or snowshoe rabbit
, is a species of hare found in North America. It has the name "snowshoe" because of the large size of its hind feet and the marks its tail leaves. The animal's feet prevent it from sinking into the snow when it hops and walks. Its feet also have fur on the soles to protect it from freezing temperatures.
For camouflage, its fur turns white during the winter and rusty brown during the summer. Its flanks are white year-round. The snowshoe hare is also distinguishable by the black tufts of fur on the edge of its ears. Its ears are shorter than those of most other hares.
In summer, it feeds on plants such as, grass, ferns and leaves; in winter, it eats twigs, the bark from trees, and buds from flowers and plants and, similar to the Arctic hare, has been known to steal meat from baited traps. Hares are carnivorous under the availability of dead animals, and have been known to eat dead rodents such as mice due to low availability of protein in an herbivorous diet. It can sometimes be seen feeding in small groups. This animal is mainly active at night and does not hibernate.
The snowshoe hare may have up to four litters in a year which average three to eight young. Males compete for females, and females may breed with several males.
Snowshoe hares occur from Newfoundland east to western Alaska; south in the Sierra Nevada to central California; in the Rocky Mountains to southern Utah and northern New Mexico; and in the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee. Locations of subspecies are as follows:
Snowshoe hares are primarily found in boreal forests and upper montane forests; within these forests, they favor habitats with a dense shrub layer. In the Pacific Northwest, snowshoe hares occupy diverse habitats, including mature conifers (mostly Douglas-fir [Pseudotsuga menziesii
] and variants), immature conifers, alder (Alnus
spp.)/salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis
), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis
)/salal (Gaultheria shallon
), and cedar (Thuja
spp.) swamps. In western Oregon, snowshoe hares were present in brush patches of vine maple (Acer circinatum
), willows (Salix
spp.), rhododendrons (Rhododendron
spp.), and other shrubs.
In Utah, snowshoe hares used Gambel oak (Quercus gambelli
) in the northern portion of the Gambel oak range. In the Southwest, the southernmost populations of snowshoe hares occur in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico, in subalpine scrub: narrow bands of shrubby and prostrate conifers at and just below timberline that are usually composed of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii
), bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata
), limber pine (P. flexilis
), and/or common juniper (Juniperus communis
In Minnesota, snowshoe hares use jack pine (P. banksiana
) uplands, edges, tamarack (Larix laricina
) bogs, black spruce (Picea mariana
) bogs, and sedge (Carex
spp.), alder, and scrub fens. In New England, snowshoe hares favor second-growth aspen (Populus
spp.) near conifers, but other forest types occupied by snowshoe hares include aspens, paper birch (B. papyrifera
), northern hardwoods, red maple (A. rubrum
), balsam fir (Abies balsamea
), red spruce (Picea rubens
)-balsam fir, eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis
), northern red oak (Quercus rubra
), oak (Quercus
spp.), eastern white pine (P. strobus
)-northern red oak-red maple, and eastern white pine. Snowshoe hares also use shrub swamps dominated by buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis
), alders, and silky dogwood (Cornus ammomum
). Further details on plant communities used by snowshoe hares in different regions are in Bittner and Rongstad.
Snowshoe hares are crepuscular to nocturnal. They are shy and secretive and spend most of the day in shallow depressions, called forms, scraped out under clumps of ferns, brush thickets, and downed piles of timber. They occasionally use the large burrows of mountain beavers (Aplodontia rufa
) as forms. Diurnal activity level increases during the breeding season. Juveniles are usually more active and less cautious than adults.
Snowshoe hares are active year-round. The breeding season for hares is stimulated by new vegetation and varies with latitude, location, and yearly events (such as weather conditions and phase of snowshoe hare population cycle). Breeding generally begins in late December to January and lasts until July or August . In northwestern Oregon, male peak breeding activity (as determined by testes weight) occurs in May and is at the minimum in November. In Ontario, the peak is in May and in Newfoundland, the peak is in June. Female estrus begins in March in Newfoundland, Alberta, and Maine, and in early April in Michigan and Colorado. First litters of the year are born from mid-April to May.
The gestation period is 35 to 40 days; most studies report 37 days as the average length of gestation. Litters average three to five leverets depending on latitude, elevation, and phase of population cycle, ranging from one to seven. Deep snowpack increases the amount of upper-branch browse available to snowshoe hares in winter, and therefore has a positive relationship with the nutritional status of breeding adults. Litters are usually smaller in the southern sections of their range since there is less snow. Newborns are fully furred, open-eyed, and mobile. They leave the natal form within a short time after birth, often within 24 hours. After leaving the birthplace, siblings stay near each other during the day, gathering once each evening to nurse. Weaning occurs at 25 to 28 days except for the last litter of the season, which may nurse for two months or longer.
Female snowshoe hares can become pregnant anytime after the 35th day of gestation. The second litter can therefore be conceived before the first litter is born (snowshoe hares have twin uteri). Pregnancy rates ranged from 78 to 100% for females during the period of first litter production, 82 to 100% for second litters, and for the periods of third and fourth litters pregnancy rates vary with population cycle. In Newfoundland, the average number of litters per female per year ranged from 2.9 to 3.5, and in Alberta the range was from 2.7 to 3.3. The number of litters per year varies with phase of population cycle (see below). In Alberta the average number of litters per year was almost 3 just after a population peak and 4 just after the population low. Females normally first breed as 1-year-olds. Juvenile breeding is rare and has only been observed in females from the first litter of the year and only in years immediately following a low point in the population cycle.
In Yukon Territory, 30-day survival of radio-tagged leverets was 46%, 15%, and 43% for the first, second, and third litters of the year, respectively. There were no differences in mortality in plots with food added. The main proximate cause of mortality was predation by small mammals, including red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
) and arctic ground squirrels (Spermophilus parryii
). Littermates tended to live or die together more often than by chance. Individual survival was negatively related to litter size and positively related to body size at birth. Litter size is negatively correlated with body size at birth.
Northern populations of snowshoe hares undergo cycles that range from seven to 17 years between population peaks. The average time between peaks is approximately 10 years. The period of abundance usually lasts for two to five years, followed by a population decline to lower numbers or local scarcity. Areas of great abundance tend to be scattered. Populations do not peak simultaneously in all areas, although a great deal of synchronicity occurs in northern latitudes. From 1931 to 1948, the cycle was synchronized within one or two years over most of Canada and Alaska, despite differences in predators and food supplies. In central Alberta, low snowshoe hare density occurred in 1965, with 42 to 74 snowshoe hares per 100 acres (40 ha). The population peak occurred in November 1970 with 2,830 to 5,660 snowshoe hares per 100 acres (40 ha). In the southern parts of its range, snowshoe hare populations do not fluctuate radically.
Exclosure experiments in Alberta indicated browsing by snowshoe hares during population peaks has the greatest impact on palatable species, thus further reducing the amount of available foods. In this study, insufficient nutritious young browse was available to sustain the number of snowshoe hares present in the peak years (1971 and 1972) in winter.
Major variables in habitat quality include average visual obstruction and browse biomass. Snowshoe hares prefer young forests with abundant understories. The presence of cover is the primary determinant of habitat quality, and is more significant than food availability or species composition. Species composition does, however, influence population density; dense softwood understories support greater snowshoe hare density than hardwoods because of cover quality. In Maine, female snowshoe hares were observed to be more common on sites with less cover but more nutritious forage; males tended to be found on sites with heavier cover.
Winter browse availability depends on height of understory brush and winter snow depth; 6-to-8-foot-tall (1.8 to 2.4 m) saplings with narrow stem diameters are required for winter browse in heavy snow.
In northern regions, snowshoe hares occupy conifer and mixed forests in all stages of succession, but early successional forests foster peak abundance. Deciduous forests are usually occupied only in early stages of succession. In New England, snowshoe hares preferred second-growth deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woods with dense brushy understories; they appear to prefer shrubby old-field areas, early- to mid-successional burns, shrub-swamps, bogs, and upper montane krumholz vegetation. In Maine, snowshoe hares were more active in clearcut areas than in partially cut or uncut areas. Sapling densities were highest on 12- to 15-year-old plots; these plots were used more than younger stands. In northern Utah, they occupied all the later stages of succession on quaking aspen and spruce-fir, but were not observed in meadows. In Alberta, snowshoe hares use upland shrub-sapling stages of regenerating aspens (either postfire or postharvest). In British Columbia overstocked juvenile lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta
) stands formed optimal snowshoe hare habitat.
In western Washington, most unburned, burned, or scarified clearcuts will normally be fully occupied by snowshoe hares within four to five years, as vegetation becomes dense. In older stands (more than 25 years), stem density begins to decline and cover for snowshoe hares decreases. However, in north-central Washington, they may not colonize clearcuts until six or seven years, and it may take 20 to 25 years for their density to reach maximum. Winter snowshoe hare pellet counts were highest in 20-year-old lodgepole pine stands, lower in older lodgepole stands, and lowest in spruce-dominated stands. In western Oregon, snowshoe hares were abundant only in early successional stages, including stable brushfields. In west-central Oregon, an old-growth Douglas-fir forest was clearcut and monitored through 10 years of succession. A few snowshoe hares were noted in adjacent virgin forest plots; they represented widely scattered, sparse populations. One snowshoe hare was observed on the disturbed plot 2.5 years after it had been clearcut and burned; at this stage, ground cover was similar to that of the uncut forest. By 9 years after disturbance, snowshoe hare density had increased markedly.
In western Washington, snowshoe hares routinely used steep slopes where cover was adequate; most studies, however, suggest they tend to prefer gentle slopes. Moonlight increases snowshoe hare vulnerability to predation, particularly in winter. They tend to avoid open areas during bright phases of the moon and during bright periods of a single night. Their activity usually shifts from coniferous understories in winter to hardwood understories in summer.
Vegetative structure plays an important role in the size of snowshoe hare home ranges. Snowshoe hares wander up to 5 miles (8 km) when food is scarce. In Montana home ranges are smaller in brushy woods than in open woods. In Colorado and Utah, the average home range of both sexes was 20 acres (8.1 ha). On Montreal Island of Quebec, the average daily range for both sexes was 4 acres (1.6 ha) in old-field mixed woods. In Montana, the home range averaged 25 acres (10 ha) for males and 19 acres (7.6 ha) for females. In Oregon the average snowshoe hare home range was 14.6 acres (5.9 ha).
Snowshoe hares require dense, brushy, usually coniferous cover; thermal and escape cover are especially important for young hares. Low brush provides hiding, escape, and thermal cover. Heavy cover 10 feet (3 m) above ground provides protection from avian predators, and heavy cover 3.3 feet (1 m) tall provides cover from terrestrial predators. Overwinter survival increases with increased cover. A wide variety of habitat types are used if cover is available. Base visibility in good snowshoe hare habitat ranges from 2% at 16.5 feet (5 m) distance to 0% at 66 feet (20 m). Travel cover is slightly more open, ranging from 14.7% visibility at 16.5 feet (5 m) to 2.6% at 66 feet (20 m). Areas with horizontal vegetation density of 40 to 100% at 50 feet (15 m) are adequate snowshoe hare habitat in Utah.
Snowshoe hares eat a variety of plant materials. Forage type varies with season. Succulent green vegetation is consumed when available from spring to fall; after the first frost, buds, twigs, evergreen needles, and bark form the bulk of snowshoe hare diets until spring greenup. Snowshoe hares typically feed at night and follow well-worn forest paths to feed on various plants and trees.
Snowshoe hares prefer branches, twigs, and small stems up to 0.25 inch (6.3 mm) diameter; larger stems are sometimes used in winter. In Yukon Territory, they normally eat fast-growing birches and willows, and avoid spruce. At high densities, however, the apical shoots of small spruce are eaten. The snowshoe hare winter diet is dominated by bog birch (Betula glandulosa
), which is preferred but not always available. Greyleaf willow (Salix glauca
) is eaten most often when bog birch is not available. Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis
) is the fourth most common diet item. White spruce (Picea glauca
) is eaten, but not preferred. In Alaska, spruce, willows, and alders comprise 75% of snowshoe hare diets; spruce needles make up nearly 40% of the diet. In northwestern Oregon, winter foods include needles and tender bark of Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla
); leaves and green twigs of salal; buds, twigs, and bark of willows; and green herbs. In north-central Washington, willows and birches are not plentiful; snowshoe hares browse the tips of lodgepole pine seedlings. In Utah, winter foods include Douglas-fir, willows, snowberry (Symphoricarpos
spp.), maples, and serviceberry (Amelanchier
spp.). In Minnesota, aspens, willows, hazelnut (Corylus
spp.), ferns (Pteridophyta
spp.), birches, alders, sumacs (Rhus
spp.), and strawberries (Fragaria
spp.) are winter foods. Winter foods in New York include eastern white pine, red pine (Pinus resinosa
), white spruce, paper birch, and aspens. In Ontario, sugar maple (Acer saccharum
), striped maple (A. pensylvanicum
), red maple, other deciduous species, northern white-cedar (T. occidentalis
), balsam fir, beaked hazelnut (C. cornuta
), and buffaloberry were heavily barked. In New Brunswick, snowshoe hares consumed northern white-cedar, spruces, American beech (Fagus grandifolia
), balsam fir, mountain maple (A. spicatum
), and many other species of browse. In Newfoundland, paper birch is preferred. Further details on regional food preferences are summarized in:
In Alaska, snowshoe hares consume new leaves of blueberries (Vaccinium
spp.), new shoots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense
), and fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium
) in spring. Grasses are not a major item due to low availability associated with sites that have adequate cover. In summer, leaves of willows, black spruce, birches, and bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum
) are also consumed. Black spruce is the most heavily used and the most common species in the area. Pen trials suggest black spruce is not actually preferred. Roses (Rosa
spp.) were preferred, but a minor dietary item, as they were not common in the study area. In northwest Oregon, summer foods include grasses, clovers (Trifolium
spp.), other forbs, and some woody plants, including Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and young leaves and twigs of salal. In Minnesota, aspens, willows, grasses, birches, alders, sumacs, and strawberries are consumed when green. In Ontario, summer diets consist of clovers, grasses, and forbs.
The snowshoe hare is a major prey item for a number of predators. Major predators include Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis
), bobcats (L. rufus
), fishers (Martes pennanti
), American martens (M. americana
), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata
), minks (M. vison
), foxes (Vulpes
spp.), coyote (Canis latrans
), domestic dogs (C. familiaris
), domestic cats (Felis catus
), wolves (C. lupus
), mountain lions (Felis concolor
), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus
), barred owls (Strix varia
), spotted owls (S. occidentalis
), other owls, red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis
), northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis
), other hawks (Buteonidae), golden eagles (Aquila chryseatos
), and crows and ravens. Other predators include black bears (Ursus americanus
). In Glacier National Park snowshoe hares are a prey item of Rocky Mountain wolves (Canis lupus irremotus
This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Lepus americanus".
Media related to Lepus americanus
at Wikimedia Commons
Shane Wilson is a sculptor who has lived and worked in Yukon and British Columbia, Canada. His principal mediums are antler, horn, ivory, and bronze, from which he creates sculpture in his signature style, a juxtaposition of abstract organic and non-organic shapes, best seen in his moose skull sculpture "Duality".
Originally beginning with other art forms which included drawing, acrylic painting and clay sculpture, his interest in antler carving was sparked in 1985 when he attended a show of antler carvings by Maureen Morris, a well known sculptor from Atlin, British Columbia. Zoology