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Jackson Hole Wildlife, Part 6: Moose

Welcome back to our Wildlife of Jackson Hole series! This is the sixth installment, which basically makes it a very antler-heavy Return of the Jedi.*  Today: moose!

A moose.
A bull moose surveys his dominion.

Latin name: Alces alces

How big are they?

Moose are the largest members of the deer family, weighing up to 1200 pounds. To sustain their bulk, they have to eat about 75 pounds of plants a day in the summer and 35 in the winter. 

So how big are those antlers, then?

Bulls (males) develop some seriously swole necks to lift up 65-pound antlers that can get six feet across, after which they parade around casually showing off how much they can lift to the females in the hopes of finding a mate, so it’s a wonder you don’t see more of them at my gym in the morning. 

What’s up with that thing on their chin?

That’s called a “bell” or a “dewlap.” And honestly, we don’t really know what it does. (We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t puzzle out the function of a flap of skin on a giant deer. Yay, science.) It might be to spread urine on their mating area, which would be weird, but this is a judgment-free blog. One thing we do know is that in cold weather, the bell can freeze off. Ouch.

Where does the name come from?

The word “moose” comes from the Algonquin word for “stripper of bark.” This, of course, comes from the moose’s habit of stripping the bark off of trees in the winter when food becomes scarce. 

What’s the plural of “moose”?

Still “moose.”

What do you call a baby?

That would be a “mooseling.” Just kidding—it’s a calf. 

Did you recently see a bunch of moose?

I did—thank you for asking. Last May my wife and I went cycling from Jackson Hole to Teton Village, where we were promised lots of moose. They actually turned out to be pretty scarce on that day. However, a few weeks ago we went to Alaska, where saw at least 14 of them, mostly in mother-child pairs. 

What else should I know about them?

  • Moose are born with an innate ability to swim. They can even dive up to 5 meters underwater when searching for food. 
  • In Europe, the creatures we call moose are called elk. That’s because the Norwegian word for moose is, confusingly, “elg.”
  • Their front hooves are powerful enough to kill wolves. 

Want to see some moose? Try the bike ride my wife and I did and maybe you’ll be luckier than we were in the moose-sighting department. Start your trek at Flat Creek Inn. Call to book today.

Read previous posts in this series here: bald eagle, bear, wolf.

*Or Revenge of the Sith if you’re going by release order.

Jackson Hole Wildlife, Part 5: Elk

Welcome to the next installment of our wildly (get it?) popular series Wildlife of Jackson Hole! This week’s entry has a special place in our Flat Creek hearts, since they live in a giant refuge right across the street from us: the elk! 

The mighty elk.

LATIN NAME: Cervus elaphus

What’s an elk’s social life like?

Elk are social animals and live in large herds, as we in Jackson can attest. Herds can range up to 200 or even 400 members—or, if they’re the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge herd, they hang out in a group of 1,100. Like a bunch of awkward teenagers at a middle school dance, elk herds are often segregated by gender. Herds are matriarchal, which means they’re run by a single old female, which is pretty progressive of them. Way to shatter that glass ceiling, elk.

What about the babies?

Elk babies are called calves and weigh up to 35 pounds when they’re born. They can stand after just 20 minutes, which makes you wonder why human babies are such slackers. (Get your act together and stand already, human babies. You’re embarrassing us in front of the other animals.) After a couple of weeks, the calf will join the herd. To defend against the threat of predators, calves are born spotted and scentless, which helps them become invisible to hostile eyes and noses.

Do they have antlers?

Um, did you miss the picture above? Yes, the males do. They shed the antlers every year, selflessly thinking of the aesthetics of Jackson’s famous elk antler arches. New antlers are covered in a fuzzy skin called velvet, but by early fall they’re solid bone. They’re not light, either—a set of antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds. 

Can elk count?

That’s a weirdly specific question, almost like we were looking for an excuse to share this fact, but yes—apparently, they can. At least to ten. Scientists have noticed that when presented with the choice between a mate with nine antler points and another with ten, she will almost always pick the one with ten. We just think they’re shallow.

Can I hunt them?

Yes. As the Elk Refuge website points out, managing the size of the herd is an important task that hunters can help with. Find out more here.

What else should I know about them?

  • The Shawnee name for elk is “wapiti,” which means “white rump.”
  • An elk’s top two canine teeth are called “ivories.” It’s believed these are what’s left of saber-like tusks left over from modern elk’s distant ancestors. These terrifying prehistoric elk may have used their massive canines to fight. 
  • An elk’s stomach has four chambers. The first one stores food, while the other three do the digestion.

Not sure if we’ve mentioned this yet, but there’s no better place to see the elk than from Flat Creek Inn, right across the street from the Elk Refuge. Book with us today!

Read previous posts in this series here: bald eagle, bear, wolf.

Jackson Hole Wildlife, Part 4: Pronghorn

One of our most popular blog series from last year, Jackson Hole Wildlife, returns this week with one Jackson’s most common animals: the antelope! You may see them out on the elk refuge, or you might be planning to hunt them later this year. However you’ve encountered them, let’s find out more about the antelope. 

“When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” —Mufasa

Latin name: Antilocapra americana

Technically, it’s not really an antelope, is it?

Well, you’re so smart, aren’t you? No, the animal found in Jackson Hole is actually a pronghorn (true antelope live in Africa, where they get eaten by Simba as part of the Circle of Life), but we like to call these popular North American ungulates antelope anyway. 

How many of them are there?

Until recently, Wyoming had more pronghorn than people. Recently, possibly due to droughts and other factors, pronghorn numbers in Wyoming have been declining below about 360,000 animals. 

How fast are they?

They’ve been clocked up to 65 mph. That’s faster than any land animal except the cheetah, which we do not have in Jackson Hole. On a related note, the pronghorn has been observed to have at least 13 distinct gaits. This tells us two things: one, the pronghorn is capable of covering a lot of ground at once, and two, someone’s job is to count pronghorn gaits. 

What’s their mating ritual like?

Weird question, but okay. When courting a female in heat, a male pronghorn approaches her while softly vocalizing (we like to think he’s humming some sweet Marvin Gaye) and waving his head side to side, displaying his cheek patches. If the female is super into his cheek patches, she stays motionless, then sniffs his scent gland. If you want to know what happens next, go watch a nature documentary on Netflix. 

How long do they live?

The lifespan of a pronghorn in the wild is 15 years. 

Can I hunt them?

Yes! Wyoming has more pronghorn than the rest of the continent. According to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, harvest success often exceeds 85%. Still, there’s a limited quota, so find out here how to get a license. 

What else should I know about them?

  • They have large eyes with 320 degrees of vision.
  • The first people to scientifically document pronghorn were the explorers Lewis and Clark. Clark described it as “verry actively made, [with] only a pair of hoofs to each foot, his brains on the back of his head, his Nostrals large, his eyes like a Sheep he is more like the Antilope or Gazelle of Africa than any other Species of Goat.”
  • The pronghorn’s closest living relatives are the giraffe and the okapi, a bizarre-looking African animal that looks like a cross between a giraffe and a zebra. 

Looking to get a glimpse of pronghorn on the elk refuge? There’s no better place to stay than Flat Creek Inn, Jackson’s closest lodgings to Grand Teton National Park. 

Read previous posts in this series here: bald eagle, bear, wolf.

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