Trish and I recently completed a seven-day wilderness canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Well, this time we took two grandsons with us, ages 16 and 18.
Do you have any idea how attached today's teens are to their digital devices and other technology? To me, the idea of not having any technology for a week sounds like bliss (sure, I love technology, but I love nature even more). But if you mention this possibility to teenagers, their heads might explode. Yep, it's that traumatic.
But grandsons Ellis and Gabe were real troopers. They both love to go fishing, and they seemed to enjoy every minute of the adventure (although they had digital devices in their hands within seconds of returning to our vehicle).
I do believe all the paddling and portaging may have worn them out a few times...
One day, the two boys went out in their canoe to explore one of the lakes. They spotted a moose antler resting on the bottom of the lake. Somehow (perhaps I don't want to know all the details) they managed to retrieve the antler and they brought it to the campsite (we left it there for others to enjoy... there are rules against taking such things home). If this antler hadn't been submerged in water, it would have been eaten by squirrels and mice months ago.
A few days later we saw a bull moose swimming across the lake. These moose-related events are why I chose today's awesome animal.
Awesome Animal - Moose
The only place I've seen these amazing creatures is during our annual canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Unfortunately, their numbers are decreasing in that area due to the worldwide warming trend. The moose and wolf populations are moving northward, with white-tailed deer and coyote populations moving up and taking their place.
I have nothing against white-tailed deer and coyotes, but I see them all the time here in Missouri. When we travel north to the border of Canada, we enjoy seeing those animals that we think of as traditional "Northwoods" creatures. It's sad that the next generation of BWCA paddlers will see very few (if any) moose or wolves in that area.
But we're still seeing a few of them. Here is a cow moose and her calf that Trish and I saw a few years ago:
So what the heck is a Moose?
The moose (Alces alces) is the largest species of the deer family (Cervidae). They are immediately recognizable to most people, with a distinctly bulbous snout that sets them apart from other large deer such as the North American elk.
But the names moose and elk can be confusing. Why? Because in Europe, moose are called elk. And to confuse things even more, in North America there is another large deer species called the elk (Cervus canadensis, also called the wapiti). So the American elk is not a moose, but the European moose is actually an elk. Makes perfect sense, right?
Amazing facts about Moose
Yep, the plural form of moose is moose. Not mooses, or meeses, or mice.
Moose are big! Adults stand 4.5 to 7 feet (1.4 to 2.1 meters) tall at the shoulder. This is at least a foot (30.5 cm) taller than the next tallest deer, the American elk. Bulls weigh up to 1,500 pounds (680 kg). Cows are somewhat smaller, up to 1,080 pounds (490 kg). The bulls' antlers can span six feet (1.8 m). The moose is the second largest land animal in both North America and Europe (only the bison is larger).
I've always been fascinated by animals that grow antlers (which fall off and are regrown each year) versus animals that grow horns (which continue to grow without falling off). Consider this: a bull moose's pair of antlers can weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg). Imagine how strong their necks have to be to lug this weight around! And imagine how strange it must feel to the moose when the first one falls off each year (they rarely fall off at the same time). If I had a 30-pound antler on one side of my head, I would probably find myself walking in circles.
Check out this video of a moose shedding one antler (I love the family's comments as they are recording this).
Antlers are very important to male moose (and all deer) in obtaining mates (larger antlers help them in their dominance over other males), but they shed these antlers in the fall to save energy over the long winter.
A male moose also has a large "beard" hanging below its chin, made of hair and loose skin. This is called a dewlap (females have them, too, but they are smaller). Oddly, no one is sure exactly what the dewlap is for. Some biologists suggest that it helps the males spread their scent (in the form of urine) onto trees to mark their territory or onto females (isn't that romantic?).
Now, here's a weird fact about moose antlers. If a bull moose is castrated (um... maybe by an attacking wolf or by trying to jump over something?), his antlers will quickly fall off. Soon after, he will grow a new set of antlers, but these will be oddly shaped and deformed. And this new set of antlers never falls off. Yep, the moose wears them the rest of his life. This happens often enough that these strangely-shaped antlers have a name--"devil's antlers." Native Americans have several myths regarding such antlers. See the photo below.
One more bit about the moose in popular culture. For some reason (possibly the moose's goofy looks), moose are extremely popular in cartoons and children's books. Dr. Suess wrote a beloved book titled Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. And then there's If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff, as well as many more. There's the craft beer called Moose Drool, from Big Sky Brewing in Montana. By the way, I used to brew my own beer, and once I used a recipe that was supposed to resemble Moose Drool, but instead it was called Caribou Slobber... but I digress.
There are countless moose products, from moose-shaped coffee mugs to moose toilet paper holders. But perhaps my favorite pop culture moose is Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle J. Moose is a character from an old cartoon TV show that played from 1959 to 1964. You know... back when they made the really good cartoons. Repeats of this awesome show have been playing for over 50 years. In 1996, Bullwinkle was rated by TV Guide as the #32 greatest TV star of all time. Although Bullwinkle was rather dim-witted, he was balanced out by his smarter partner, the flying squirrel named Rocky.
Hmmm....I wonder if I can find these shows on Netflix or DVD...
So, the moose deserves a place in the R.A.H.O.F.
(Righteous Animal Hall of Fame).
FUN FACT: The word righteous originated before the year 900, so it has been around for a while. It started as the Middle English word rightwos but eventually became righteous. Original meaning: someone characterized by uprightness and morality (hmm... that sounds like Bullwinkle to me). Eventually, though, a slang form came to mean absolutely genuine or wonderful, as in, "That ice cream was righteous!" Or, "Did you see Chuck Norris beat up those bad guys? That was righteous!" So, righteous is another way to say awesome!
Everyone needs a creative outlet. That's why I write.