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The state animal of Maine is the moose, or Alces alces. The moose is the largest species in the cervidae, or deer, family and the second largest land mammal in North America and Europe. Moose range freely in the boreal and deciduous forests of North America and northern Asia and Europe. Maine is an excellent habitat for moose because it is the most heavily forested state in the United States, with more than 17 million forested acres (about 6.9 million forested hectares), covering nearly 90 percent of the land. The name "moose" comes from an Algonquin Indian term meaning "twig eater."
An adult male moose might grow to weigh 1,600 pounds (727 kg) and stand 6 feet (1.8 m) tall; female cows are lighter and smaller. The moose is distinguished by its thick, plush fur; extremely tall legs; camel-like snout; and, for the males, its impressive rack of velvety-brown antlers. One adult moose consumes roughly 45 pounds (20 kg) of vegetation per day, migrating to new territory in search of new plants. Although moose do consume leaves, twigs and tree buds, half of the moose's diet consists of aquatic plants to maintain its sodium requirements. During the Maine winters, the iconic state land mammal is often seen on the state roadways licking up road salt.
Moose meat was once a common delicacy for trappers and hunters of New England. In his work The Maine Woods, Henry David Thoreau compared his meal of moose as something akin to tender beef or veal. Moose are not an endangered species, and licensed hunting of the state animal of Maine is permitted. Some estimates claim that more than 1 million moose roam the North American forests.
Although the ubiquitous state animal of Maine populates forests, the moose prefers quiet living until mating season. Males during "rutting" season in September and October become quite aggressive, charging gawking tourists if they feel threatened. Moose have few predators and a life span of 20-25 years. Bears, wolves and coyotes will attack moose, but moose aptly defend themselves with aggressive charges or strikes with their antlers. Moose can run as fast as 35 miles per hour (56.3 km/hr) and swim 6 miles per hour (9.7 km/hr).
Moose are so predominant along Routes 16 and 201 in central Maine that the region has been called "Moose Alley." These animals are diurnal, and the best time to spot them usually is early morning or dusk. Moose have exceptional hearing and sense of smell but poor eyesight. Motorists have their share of vehicle collisions with the husky state animal of Maine, and research has indicated that about half of all collisions with moose result in injury to vehicle occupants.