The animal Alces alces, called the Elk in Europe or the Moose in North America, is the largest of all the deer tribe, distinguished from other members of the Cervidae by the form of the antlers of the males. These arise as cylindrical beams projecting on each side at right angles to the middle line of the skull, which after a short distance divide in a fork-like manner. The lower prong of this fork may be either simple, or divided into two or three tines, with some flattening.
In the East Siberian race of the Elk (Alces alces bedfordiae) the posterior division of the main fork divides into three tines, with no distinct flattening. In the Common Elk (Alces alces alces), on the other hand, this branch usually expands into a broad palmation, with one large tine at the base, and a number of smaller snags on the free border.
There is, however, a Scandinavian phase of the Common Elk in which the antlers are simpler, and recall those of the East Siberian race.
The palmation appears to be more marked in the North American race, the Moose (Alces alces americanus) than in the typical Scandinavian elk. The largest of all is the Alaskan race (Alces alces gigas), which stands 8 ft. in height, with a span of 6 ft. across the antlers
The great length of the legs gives a decidedly ungainly appearance to the elks. The muzzle is long and fleshy, with only a very small triangular naked patch below the nostrils; and the males have a peculiar sac, known as the bell, hanging from the neck. From the shortness of their necks, elks are unable to graze, and their chief food consists of young shoots and leaves of willow and birch, and waterplants (such as Arnicus brucitus). These ruminants are often found feeding in wetlands in temperate climes.
Male moose weigh over 550kg (1200 lbs) on average, and females are often more than 400kg. Calves weigh around 15kg at birth but quickly increase in size. Height at the shoulders generally ranges between 6.5-7.5 feet (over 2 metres). Only the males have antlers, averaging 160cm across and 20kg in weight with a broad, flattened palmate shape fringed in up to 30 tines.
An Alaskan moose discovered in 1897 holds the record for being the largest known modern deer; it was a male standing 2.34 metres and weighing 816kg. Its antler spread was 199cm.
Although generally timid, the males become very bold during the breeding season, when the females utter a loud call, often mistaken for lowing cattle; and at such times they fight both with their antlers and their hoofs. Fierce clashing of antlers between males is also not uncommon. In Norse mythology, lightning was said to emanate from the antlers of the Elk during combat.
The usual pace is a shambling trot, but when pressed elks can break into a gallop. The female gives birth to one or two young at a time, which are not spotted.
The female Moose is reported to kill more people in Canada than any other animal (far exceeding the North American Grizzly Bear). These large animals can be extremely protective of their young, and caution should be exercised when approaching a cow moose.
In North America, during the winter one male and several females may form a "moose-yard" in the forest, which they keep open by trampling the snow.
In Western Culture, the Moose is often depicted as a laconic, good natured and not terribly bright creature. Bullwinkle of the Rocky & Bullwinkle animated television series is the most famous example.
In North America the name "Elk" is transferred to the Wapiti deer.