Stolen: Dewlaps, bells, dew claws and moose factoids
We’ve had a lot of moose sightings in Summit County recently. They’re back and calving, it seems. That distinctive flap under their chin is called a dewlap or bell, and they vary widely in size and shape from moose to moose. Both the male and females have dewlaps and some are fat, some are short and thin, some may even look like a few strands of hair. Apparently, the larger the better for the bull; dewlaps, that is. It is actually used for communication. The bull will rub his chin on the cow during rutting and transfer his smell to his lady. The moose has two smaller extra “toes” called dew claws, which are situated a few inches up on the back of a moose ankle. This helps them walk in deep snow or mud. Their split hooves – with toes that spread apart – also allow them to walk in snow and mud, so they are very well adapted to snowy forests and boggy wetlands; great for Cucumber Gulch and Beaver Meadows.
More unusual factoids about moose: They can grow up to 1,200 pounds and 9 feet from nose to tail, 6 feet high – but their tails are only 3 inches long! They have a hump near their shoulders, the hair on which is longer than the rest of their body and stands on end when they are angry. So beware of a moose when its hump hairs are up. Their hair is hollow which actually helps them float and provides good insulation against cold weather. A moose can submerge so that only his hump is showing as he feeds on aquatic plants, so don’t mistake it for the Loch Ness monster! Special valves inside his nose keep the water out, but water gets trapped in his large antlers, and as he lifts up his head it sounds like someone bailed out a 5-gallon bucket of water. They can dive to 20 feet and swim 6 mph. A moose can run 35 mph and can run 15 miles without stopping, so forget about outrunning them. Their teeth are best suited to eating plants, bushes and small trees and they have a four-chambered stomach for digesting different foods at different times. They spend a lot of time chewing their cuds. Woody bushes such as willow are a staple diet. Bull moose eat about 50 pounds of food a day in time for the mating season in the fall, a lot of the food goes into growing those 6-7 ft, 80-pound antlers. The bulls with the bigger and better antlers are the dominant males and will get the ladies’ attention.
Moose have a highly developed sense of smell, and they can smell you first! They have very good hearing with their large ears, which can pivot independently from each other in all directions. Those dark brown moose eyes, like the ears, can pivot independently 180 degrees, therefore a moose can see all but what is directly behind him. The mother moose is very protective of her calf and monitors the area for perceived threats, so it is best to be cautious of cow moose during the spring and summer. Backing slowly out of the way but not running will usually avoid confrontation. Ducking behind a tree may also avoid confrontation. A moose is a herbivore so will not usually attack a person.
Enjoy our wildlife, but be cautious!
Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.
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