Now that we are getting out and socializing face-to-face, it is important to have conversation topics beyond what books we read during lockdown and which vaccine we received. Should the topic of moose arise, here are some facts about their antlers suitable for enriching the discussion.

Moose are a species of deer. All species in the deer family have antlers, which they shed annually. Except for caribou, only the males of each species sport such racks.  (Antelope, bison, sheep, and cattle are not deer, and they have horns, which they keep through life.)

Both antlers and horns are bone. When antlers mature each fall, the velvety covering of skin falls off, and the bone is exposed. For horns, the bone is always covered with a thin layer of keratin—the same material comprising fingernails.

Moose are the largest living species in the deer family, with bulls weighing up to 1500 pounds. The antlers account for 80 of those pounds on the big guys.

The word moose is derived from moosh (stripper and eater of bark), first used by the Innu people of Quebec. Moose eat 35 pounds of twigs and bark every day in the winter and twice that in the summer. A fourth of the energy they consume is used to support antler growth.

Moose antlers are by far the fastest growing mammalian tissue, going from zero in March to full grown in less than five months, sometimes gaining a pound a day.

They can grow that quickly because the initial thick velvety covering is laden with nutrient-supplying blood vessels. By fall, when it is time to impress the ladies, the velvety layer comes loose and falls off, but it may dangle temporarily in entirely unappealing festoons before a bull can look and feel his best.

A large rack apparently impresses the cows and intimidates the bullies, with whom the bull may occasionally spar to demonstrate dominance. Occasionally the competitors lock antlers and can’t disengage, causing them to stare directly at each other while they both starve to death.

Moose in their prime, 5-8 years old, sport the largest racks, which will include portions which extend over their brow and protect the eyes from gouging. Younger and older males get by with less.

The flat plate of antler bone is called the palm, and the extending tines are called points. The beam is the stalk that connects the antler to the skull. This terminology is important to trophy hunters. You can impress one by asking how the rack displayed in their man cave (ahem, person cave) scores on the B & C scale.

In 1887 Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club (yes, named for Daniel and Davy). It is North America’s oldest wildlife and habitat conservation organization. For rating moose-antler grandeur, the B & C score combines the spread (the record is 6 feet, 4 inches), palm length, palm width, beam circumference, and the number of points into a single brag-rights number.

Diminishing hours of daylight in late fall cause moose testosterone levels to drop, which causes their antlers to do the same in December or January. The abandoned antlers are called shed, and a late wintertime activity for outdoorspeople it to tromp moose territory hunting shed. This is illegal in some states for at least portions of the year in order to leave the habitat undisturbed for a while.

The ethics of shed hunting include not harassing a bull that is missing one antler while hoping that he will drop the other one in your presence. Sounds sensible, considering that a moose can run toward you at 35 miles per hour as easily as it can run away.

A shed sells for $4 to $12 per pound depending on the degree of weathering and damage. The antlers are valued by furniture, chandelier, and cutlery makers as well as by artists and dog chew manufacturers. Rodents and other small creatures also like shed. For them, it is a great source of calcium and other vital nutrients.

The palmar grooves trace the paths of the now absent arteries

I just returned from a fabulous adventure trip in Alaska, where moose fences protect the major highways. Moose crossing signs abound, even in Anchorage. Alas, I did not see a moose, and I posed only momentarily with a shed. I did, however, collect some great dinner party facts. Now you have them too. 

Photo credits: April July August and September

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