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Outdoors for kids

Moose are big plant eaters. They eat willow trees, bushes, plants that grow in the water, and pine trees. An adult needs about 22 to 40 pounds of food a day.

You might think that given their large food needs, moose would be mowing down every plant available, but a scientific study found that isn’t the case. Moose, in fact, are very picky eaters.

To find out the information they needed, the scientists picked up and looked at a whole lot of moose poo. By examining the pellets, the researchers could find out what they had eaten.

The study was done on Isle Royale, a national park in Lake Superior. In addition to moose, the island contains wolves, which will eat the moose. The presence of the wolves, along with the depth of the snow and how many moose-type food plants there are all affect how much and what the moose eat.

For example, if there are a lot of balsam fir trees, the moose seemed less likely to eat them. Instead, the big animals would look for more rare plants. Finding those less-common plants would help them have a more balanced diet.

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When they were more likely to be killed by wolves, however, the moose seemed to be less fussy about what they ate, especially in deep snow years when it was harder for the moose to walk around and find food.

Moose are the largest members of the deer family with an adult bull weighing nearly 1,000 pounds. With their long legs that make it easier for them to trudge through deep snow and to wade into lakes to feed, they can stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder.

On Isle Royale, moose populations have been as low as 500 animals and as high as 2,400. High numbers of moose is hard on the island’s plants, since there may not be enough food to go around.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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