What do moose eat?
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- Moose are herbivores, feeding on twigs, bark, leaves and shrubs. Due to availability, they eat fresh aquatic plants in summer and twigs and shrubs in winter.
- Moose are the largest species of deer in the world, eating 40-60 pounds of food a day.
- Moose are generalist herbivores, which means they get their nutrients by foraging from more than 20 different types of plants.
- Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and even orcas are natural predators of moose.
A name can mean a lot—but in the case of a moose, its name hides the secrets behind its diet. The word moose comes from the Algonquian language, which translates to English as "twig eater". This is an apt description for ungulates that feed primarily on bark, twigs, leaves and pine cones. Moose prefer fir, aspen, and willow—and since young trees provide the best nutrients, healthy moose populations can often be found in habitats that have been hit by recent forest fires.
But for most moose, a moderately sized water area is also necessary. The lack of winter ensures that moose need a higher sodium intake during the greener months, when vegetation in lakes, ponds and rivers is high in salt. Let's take a deep dive into the diets of these giant creatures and see what moose really eat!
What do moose eat?
Moose are herbivores, feeding on bark, grass, leaves and shrubs. Moose are generalist herbivores, eating mainly aquatic plants, fallen leaves and weeds in summer. As food supplies become tighter in the winter, they consume more twigs, shrubs and conifers. These winter food sources are nowhere near as nutritious as what moose eat in summer, but surviving a full winter in a northern climate requires adaptation!
A moose diet includes:
- pine needles
- pine cones
- aquatic plants
There are four different moose subspecies that stretch from Colorado in the south to Alaska in the north. While thick fur requires cool habitat, it also means that food is often scarce and nutrient-poor—considering that the average male moose weighs between 900 and 1,500 pounds, it can eat 40 to 60 pounds of vegetation a day. is a particularly pressing problem. They can spend as many as eight hours a day gathering enough food to satisfy their appetites.
To help meet the nutritionally demanding requirements of the world's largest deer species, moose have evolved an efficient digestive system. Like cows, moose have a four-chambered stomach that allows them to regurgitate partially digested food, which they then regurgitate to get every ounce of nutrients they can get out of it.
How do moose forage?
Moose are notoriously generalist herbivores, meaning they can obtain nutrients from a wide range of different sources. This is in stark contrast to professional herbivores such as giant pandas and koalas, which subsist almost exclusively on bamboo and eucalyptus, respectively. Professional herbivores are highly dependent on their existing ecosystems and are particularly threatened by habitat destruction. Generalists like moose can — and often have to — rely on a more varied diet.
A typical moose diet may include food foraged from as many as 20 different types of trees and shrubs, but studies of moose droppings have shown that they are highly selective in which food sources they prefer. Moose often prioritize sources of plants that are rarer for their habitat—a strange habit that suggests moose prioritize nutritional diversity in general, rather than pursuing one plant or another in particular. It has also been hypothesized that a varied diet reduces the risk of consuming lethal doses of poisonous plants.
The average height of moose is between 5 and 7 feet, and they feed on bark, twigs and leaves because they have difficulty bending down to reach the grass beside their hooves. A moose's lip is an extremely delicate instrument, carefully crafted to suit its feeding habits. Its grip is designed for barking trees, reaching tall branches and even assessing the age of tree buds. Moose typically graze in shallow water, but sometimes getting to the most nutritious food source means diving 20 feet deep. Their distinctive oversized snout blocks the nostrils, preventing fluid from entering when the moose feeds completely underwater.
What animal eats moose?
The moose's large size makes them one of the most dangerous herbivores in North America. The huge antlers of a male grizzly bear are intimidating, but the hooves of a female grizzly bear can easily end the life of an adult grizzly bear. Moose further reduce their chances of being attacked by controlling their environment. They often graze in bodies of water and can actually swim for miles at a time, traveling at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour in the water. Unfortunately, there are dangers on the water, too. Although rare, there have been instances of orcas devouring moose that ventured too far in open water.
Almost all attacks on moose are orchestrated by black bears, grizzlies, and wolves. Both bears and moose are solitary predators, but even grizzlies are usually reluctant to attack a moose unless the bear is very hungry or the moose is sick, injured, or very old or very young. Thanks to their pack tactics, wolves pose an even greater danger.
In fact, many wolf populations would dwindle without the abundance of moose to prey on—since this large game can feed an entire wolf pack. Wolves are so dangerous that moose mothers raising calves tend to neglect their own nutrients for protection. Female wolves on Lake Superior have been seen retreating to raise their pups on smaller islands that are devoid of wolves but also have hardly any vegetation.
Another predator of moose is the parasitic brainworm. While foraging for plants, they may accidentally eat parasites via snails. The feces of white-tailed deer that are immune carriers may contain the parasite. It can then transfer to terrestrial snails, which moose may unknowingly ingest.
What do moose eat in winter?
Moose's size, thick coat and lack of sweat glands allow them to live in relatively cool climates throughout the year. Unfortunately, the ecosystems they inhabit are often cold, freezing, and buried in snow during the worst of the winter. To accommodate this expected period of famine, moose do what bats and bears do — puff up so they can live on excess fat during the leaner months.
The average moose gains a quarter of its normal body weight in preparation for the winter. As the leaves, fruit and nuts wither and die, the moose can only survive on the more nutrient-poor branches. But while a lack of suitable food is a problem, it is further exacerbated by the extra energy required to forage. This is where adding fat is especially beneficial. Foods available in winter typically yield only one-third the same nutritional value of summer and spring equivalents. While moose don't hibernate in the traditional sense, they often have to determine whether foraging will expend more energy than they can recover through meals. Fortunately, moose have developed a highly insulating coat that helps regulate body temperature and minimize energy expenditure.
Find out more facts about eating twigs.
- The world's largest moose The moose is the largest deer species in the world! Click on the links to see their exact sizes.
- 10 Incredible Moose Facts These amazing mammals are super fast solitary walkers.
- Baby Moose: 8 Facts and 8 Pictures Cute baby moose are adorable. Did you know they cry to get mom's attention?
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about the author
Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!
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