I have seen moose in Maine over the years, but always without those iconic antlers: either cows, or bulls after they have dropped their antlers. Hallelujah, in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming I finally saw bull moose in their full glory.
It wasn’t easy. The biggest one I saw was just turning his back on me to wander nonchalantly back into the deep forest, so I got barely a glimpse and no photo.
The second one was high on the hillside about 300 metres away: he is the little black dot halfway down and left of centre.
When I zoomed in you could admire his rack and his beard, but not in close-up.
And then he decided to settle down under a tree to chew the cud:
The next day, though, a different male decided to travel across the landscape in full view close by, and here he is:
Their muzzle always reminds me of a carthorse, and I have an urge to hold out my palm with a carrot on it. Probably a bad idea. Anyway, this one is in his prime, between five and ten years old.
It is very hard to age a moose by its antlers, but they don’t get this butterfly (or split-palm) shape until around 5 1/2, and then as they age the antlers dwindle again.
The forward pointing portions are to protect their eyes and faces in dominance displays, though they rarely actually fight. The “beard” is in reality a flap of skin, more properly called a dewlap, or bell, and it is found in both males and females, though it is bigger in males.
No-one really knows what it is for. It may help to spread the animal’s scent during mating season. Bull moose will scrape a depression in the ground, urinate in it, and then lie down in the resulting fragrant slop. A muddy dewlap is a good way of dispersing the enticing pheromones to passing females. In this movie, again taken by Mark with his iPhone/scope combo, you can see how the dewlap flops around:
PS Here is a graphic of the different stages of antlers; the chap in my close-ups carries a fine example of the final stage:
PPS A depressing appendix. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease (like mad cow disease) that affects the brains and spinal cords of moose, elk, and deer. First identified in Colorado in 1981, it has now reached the Greater Yellowstone area. It is probably spread through bodily fluids, is slow-growing, and the early symptoms are not obvious. It is always fatal, and is considered a serious threat to the populations of all these animals. We can only hope that they acquire some resistance to this scourge.