WILSON, Wyo. — It’s antler growing season for moose and other members of the deer family like mule deer, elk and white-tailed deer in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Moose antlers grow from April or May until August. Beginning as small bumps called pedicles on each side of the forehead, the antlers enlarge until they are knobs. The knobs change into antlers and grow until August. The black fuzz, called velvet, covers the antlers until the antlers are full grown. According to Yellowstone National Park, the velvet is actually a network of veins, feeding blood to grow the flat palmate antlers.
When the antlers reach full size, moose scrape the velvet off, using trees and other brush to polish the antlers for the upcoming rut in the fall. Yearlings grow six- to eight-inch forked antlers; prime adult bulls usually grow the largest antlers—as wide as five feet from tip to tip.
Bulls usually shed their antlers in late December to late January, although young bulls may retain their antlers as late as March. Shedding their heavy antlers helps moose conserve energy and promotes easier winter survival.
In summer, moose eat aquatic plants like water lilies, duckweed, and burweed. But the principal staples of the moose diet are the leaves and twigs of the willow, followed by other woody browse species such as gooseberry and buffaloberry. An adult moose consumes as much as 50 pounds of food per day in the summer.
Bulls weigh close to 1,000 pounds while cows weigh up to 900 pounds. In the summer months, moose blend in well to their environment and can be surprisingly hard to see for such large animals. They are likely to stand their ground even when they hear people approaching, so pay close attention to your surroundings, especially in prime moose habitats such as willow thickets or around streams or ponds.
Unlike bears, it is okay to run from moose, says the National Park Service. The park service offers the following safety tips.
- If it hasn’t detected you yet, keep it that way
- If it knows you’re there, talk to it softly and move away slowly
- Don’t be aggressive – you want to convince the moose that you aren’t a threat
- If you think the moose is going to charge you, take cover or run away
Although moose have “eye shine” or tapetum lucidum underneath the retina of their eyes, they can be hard to spot at night because they stand higher than headlights and have dark coats. Drivers are urged to slow down and be mindful of wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk.