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Moose Jaw – A Real One

A real Moosejaw

I hiked past a moose skeleton on my last  Appalachian trail section hike through the Mahoosuc Range, which crosses the border between New Hampshire and Maine. Moose are big animals and it was a pretty impressive sight. The picture above is of the moose's Jaw.

At the time, I thought about prying out a tooth and carrying it around my neck like people do with shark teeth, but quickly decided that it would be bad for my karma. The moose died here, with the dignity that befits a wild animal. I was just passing through, and figured that I had no business disturbing his/her remains.

This is not the same moose that died in the Mahoosuc Notch a few years ago. Hikers tied buddhist prayer flags over its bones as a show of respect. I didn't see the flags or that moose's bones last weekend, even though I hiked over that part of the trail. My moose skeleton was on the summit of Mt. Success, about 10 miles south of the Notch.

It's not often that one get's to see the skeleton of such a big animal, so I thought I'd do a little research about moose teeth. However, searching for "Moose Jaw" on the web is almost as bad as searching on "mice," so it took a little digging.

To understand moose teeth, you need to understand a little about moose and their eating habits. Moose are large herbivorous mammals that belong to the deer family. Adult males average 1200 lbs in weight and and females average 900 lbs. Height at the shoulders generally ranges between 6 and 8 feet. Moose can have a life span of up to 25 years, but are prone to gum disease, tick infestation, and predation by bears, wolves, and humans which tend to keep the population of older adults low.

Moose Jaw Anatomy

Moose are browsers rather than grazers. They obtain most of their food from aquatic and marsh plants.They also eat grass, lichen, plants growing on the forest floor, peeled-off bark and leaves stripped from willows and poplars. Moose, like other deer chew their cud. They have a four-chambered stomach and their digestive systems contain micro-organisms that break down vegetation.

Moose teeth are specially designed for eating plant materials and for browsing on bushes and small trees. They have 32 teeth made up of 12 ridged molars, 12 premolars, 6 incisors and 2 canines. Oddly, moose have two groups of teeth. The front teeth, or incisors, are used for collecting food. The back teeth, molars and premolars, are used to chew and grind food. Between the incisors and molars is an open space along the jaw that has no teeth.

As moose grow older, they experience significant tooth wear. As their teeth wear out, the amount of food that they can eat and their physical condition can deteriorate. Additionally, their teeth loosen up with age and twigs can get lodged between teeth and rot. Like people, this can lead to a severe infection of the jaw bone or palate where the flesh and bone of the moose's jaw rots away, ultimately resulting in the animal's death by necrosis or starvation.

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