Another moose roaming Iowa

PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG This cow moose is not the moose currently being observed in Lyon County over this past week. This image was made in June 2015 in Colorado. However, there is a moose on the loose in northwest Iowa that many folks in those neighborhoods have seen. It is unusual for moose to venture this far south since they are a large animal more adapted to colder climates. For whatever reasons, known only to Mother Nature, a wandering moose struck out into new territory. It is a big animal and hard to miss.

Moose (Alces alces) is the largest member of the deer family. And periodically, a moose becomes disoriented for mostly unknown reasons and finds itself roaming around the cornfield country far from its natural more northerly habitats of Canada, the Rocky Mountains or Alaska. So now, Iowa is in the news for a moose meandering around in the northwest part of the state.

There are four subspecies of moose. The largest is the Alaska moose. Most of Canada is known for the Northwestern moose. Eastern Canada has — drum roll please — the Eastern moose, and in the Rocky Mountains is a subspecies called the Shiras moose. I can only speculate that the current moose escapade in Iowa is a wandering critter from northern North Dakota or northern Minnesota.

Interestingly, moose are called “elk” in Europe. The name moose is derived from the word “moosh”, “stripper and eater of bark” in the Algonquin language of the Montagnais (innu) Indians of Quebec, Canada. Other Indian groups called the animal “moos” or “mus” which also means eater of twigs.

All moose have large ears that can rotate 180 degrees. The nose is long and bulbous. The animal can and does graze on submerged water plants. Its legs are long, its body thus is tall and its eyesight is not the best, but its sense of smell is excellent. The smallest moose is the Shiras, and a mature bull will tip a scale at about 1,400 pounds. A mature cow Shiras moose will be about 1,000 pounds. Their long legs can allow them to run up to 35 miles per hour.

Moose, like other members of the deer family, have no upper incisor teeth. They are considered browsers and prefer meadows and wetland settings with grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs and aquatic plants. When available, lichens will also be eaten. For male moose, they put a lot of energy into a new set of antlers every year. And males have a unique growth pattern with large flat paddles surrounded by points. Male moose may get into conflicts with similar sized opponents or get into a pushing match fight that illustrates their tremendous power. A winner is usually determined when one of the males gives up.

The peak reproductive age for bull moose is 4 to 5 years of age. Their lifespan in the wild is pegged at 10 to 15 years. Major predators are black bears and wolves. Parasites can be a big problem in some habitats with winter tick infestations. Giant liver flukes can also disrupt a moose’s life span, and an arterial worm has been documented in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. This arterial worm is transmitted by biting flies. The worm blocks the blood supply to the optic nerve, ears, brain and carotid artery. Another pest of eastern moose is the meningeal worm that has a host within white-tailed deer.

For the cow moose, gestation is a 230-day time frame with calves, usually a single but sometimes twins, born in late May or early June. A calf will weigh about 25 to 35 pounds at birth. A rich diet of milk allows the calf to gain two pounds per day. Weaning takes place in five months when a calf is now 300 to 400 pounds. Calves stay with their mother until she gives birth the following year. Then the one-year-old is summarily dismissed and finally gets the message to strike out on its own.

Because the moose body is so big, they prefer temperatures where the air is 50 degrees or less. A big body is more efficient in its relative ability to retain heat. So when a moose gets to southern latitudes, it may become over stressed from too much heat.

Marshall and Tama counties had a wandering moose in either the late 1970s or early 1980s. It was illegally taken, and conservation officers did issue citations after investigating. Unfortunately, Iowa law at that time did not address moose specifically, other than in a general way as deer family, and the penalty was puny. The law was upgraded the following year by the Iowa legislature.

That bull moose was mounted and used for educational purposes at the Springbrook State Park Conservation Education Center for a number of years. Subsequently, the moose mount found a new home at the conservation center at Tama County’s Otter Creek Lake Park.

Thanksgiving is coming up this next week, Nov. 25. If you ask yourself what you have to be thankful for, the list can get very long. And many folks will go well out of their way to make that day a special one for friends, family, and even complete strangers. Giving people hope is one of the most cherished activities that people can accomplish. Long ago, our forefathers and mothers understood the hardship of living in a new land called America. They toiled hard to make a living and gave thanks accordingly each fall season for life giving foods. That is an honorable deed that continues on in grand fashion. Here is to you and yours for a happy Thanksgiving season.

In a few weeks time, on Dec. 4, Iowa shotgun deer hunters will be out and about. By the time the second shotgun season ends on Dec. 19, close to 100,000 white-tailed deer will be taken from the population. This is in keeping with management plans for Iowa’s big game species. Every year at least that many deer need to be removed from the statewide herd. This number is a balance between the carrying capacity of the land and what is perceived as the social carrying capacity, or what people are willing to live with.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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