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A moose is an ungulate widely found in the forests of North America and Europe. The hoofed animals are the largest living members of the deer family, and they are an impressive sight in the wild. In Europe, a moose is known as elk, Elch in German and alce in Spanish. This can lead to confusion in North America, where another species of animal, the wapiti, is called an elk.
A full grown moose can be up to six feet (two meters) tall at the shoulder, and it may weigh up to 1600 pounds (720 kilograms). The animals have humped withers and distinctly sloping rumps, which combine with long legs to make the animals look lanky and yet very powerful. A moose typically has a short neck with a broad, pendulous nose, and the animals can tend to look somewhat comic or quizzical.
Both males and females are brownish in color, shedding their coats annually to make way for fresh winter and summer coats. The male of the species has a set of broad, palmate horns; neutered moose will develop strangely twisted horns known colloquially as “devil's horns.” The animals have been hunted for thousands of years as a source of food and skins, and they were well known to early humans, as European cave paintings attest. Some attempts have also been made to domesticate moose, in the hopes of creating stable captive herds.
Conifer forests are the preferred environment for moose, who enjoy eating bark, shrubbery, and the young growth of trees. They also feed on aquatic plants, especially during the summer months. Their feeding habits inspired their name, which is borrowed from the Abenaki Indian language of North America. When European explorers encountered the animals, they were informed by the locals that they were known as mus, or “one who trims.”
Moose typically live alone, or in small groups with loose social bonds. The animals are sexually mature after around one year of age, with females bearing a single calf after a gestation period of around 37 weeks. Most moose social groups consist of several females banding together, and if startled the group will splinter without reforming.
In regions of the world with high moose populations, drivers often notice signs alongside the road with cautions about moose collisions. The extremely heavy, strong animals pose a serious risk for cars and passengers. If a moose is hit at the wrong angle, it can total a car, causing severe injuries to the people inside; one should avoid hitting a moose, if at possible.