Moose vs Elk: 5 Key Differences Explained

Written by Hannah Ward
Published: February 4, 2022
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Moose and elk are both large mammals from the deer family.  Given how similar they are it’s really easy for the two to be confused, and more often than not it’s moose that are mistaken for elk.  After all, they are both herbivores and are large and brown-colored with have really big antlers.  So, considering how alike they are, is it even possible to tell them apart?  The answer is yes, and there are some key differences that make it really easy once you know how.

For a start, one is larger than the other.  Their antlers are different and so are their noses.  One is an excellent swimmer and can hold it’s breath underwater while diving and even has some pretty surprising predators.  In fact, even their hoofprints are different, so even if you can’t see them you will know which animal might be just around the corner.  Join us we discover all of the differences between moose and elk.

Comparing Moose vs Elk

Moose and elk are both large animals, even though they’re from the deer family, and they are both really unique and fascinating animals.  Moose are the largest member of the deer family and there are four recognized subspecies.  There are six subspecies of elk in North America, and four in Asia.  But, as well as the differences we can’t see, there are quite a few that we can.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the main differences.

ElkMoose
LocationWestern North America, Central and East AsiaWidespread across North America
SizeHeight – 4 to 5 feet at the shoulder
Weight – 485 to 730 pounds
Height – 5 to 7 feet at the shoulder
Weight – 840 to 1,550 pounds
HabitatForests, forest edges, meadowsAround rivers and lakes – particularly areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation
ColorGolden brownDark brown / black
NoseFairly narrow deer-shaped nose with typical nostrilsLarge, rounded nose and muzzy with distinctive fatty pads over the nostrils
ThroatNo dewlapLarge dewlap
AntlersThinner and pointed – more like those of a deer. Reach around 4 feetBroad and flat beams, open, wide shape. Can be more than 6 feet long
BehaviorQuick to fleeDon’t flee quickly – instead walk away slowly and calmly
Social StructureHerd animalSolitary
TracksTooth-shapedHeart-shaped
PredatorsWolves, coyotes, brown bears, black bears, mountain lions, Siberian tigersWolves, brown bears, black bears, mountain lions, Siberian tigers, killer whales, Greenland sharks
Lifespan10 to 13 years15 to 25 years

The 5 Key Differences Between Moose and Elks

There are many differences between moose and elk. For one, moose are larger than elk. In addition, there are significant differences in the antlers of both animals. Elk antlers are more pointed while moose antlers are broad and flat. Finally, elk have tooth-shaped tracks while moose have heart-shaped tracks. Let’s dive more into each one of these differences!

Moose vs Elk: Size

What do moose eat
Moose are large, heavy animals but are excellent swimmers

iStock.com/RichardSeeley

One of the biggest differences between moose and elk (quite literally) is size.  Moose are generally much heavier and much taller than elk.  Moose range between 5 and 7 feet at the shoulder and weigh between 840 pounds all the way up to 1,550 pounds for mature males.  Elk, although still quite large in their own right, only stand 4 to 5 feet at the shoulder and weigh 485 to 730 pounds.

Moose vs Elk: Antlers

Elk and moose also have different antlers.  Elk antlers are fairly thin and pointed and closely resemble those of a deer, although they reach around 4 feet.  Male elk shed their antlers during the early part of spring as the days are beginning to get longer as this is when their testosterone levels are at their lowest.  However, the new set of antlers begin to grow almost immediately after the old ones have been dropped.

Moose have much larger antlers which can be more than 6 feet long in some cases.  They also have a different appearance.  Moose antlers have an open shape and broad, flat beams, with tines that often grow from the outer edge.  Moose shed their antlers every winter to conserve energy and regrow them during the spring – usually only taking 3 to 5 months to regrow completely.  However, that’s not all as the size and growth rate of moose antlers is determined by their age and diet, and antlers with good symmetry mean that the animal is in excellent health, although the symmetry usually declines after 13 years of age.  The diameter of the main beam is used to determine the age of the moose, rather than the number of tines (points).

Moose vs Elk: Nose

While elk have a typical slender deer-shaped nose, moose couldn’t be more different.  Moose have a large, rounded nose and muzzle with distinctive “fatty pads”.  Their face is long and broad and these pads are from fat and muscle.  However, despite their strange appearance, these pads actually have an important function as they allow moose to close their nostrils so that they can swim underwater.  The pads close when triggered by the water pressure and mean that the moose can remain underwater for around one minute.  Moose are excellent swimmers and can dive too – they’ve been known to reach depths of 20 feet to reach aquatic plants at the bottom of lakes.

Moose vs Elk: Throat

One of the most visible differences between moose and elk is the presence of a dewlap on moose but not on elk.  Dewlaps are large flaps of skin that hang underneath the throat.  It’s not known what purpose they serve, but suggestions include a thermoregulatory function, or cooling system.

Moose vs Elk: Tracks

Animals That Molt - Elk
Elk are smaller than moose and have thinner, more pointed antlers

Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com

A more unusual difference between moose and elk is actually the shape of their tracks.  Elk have tooth-shaped tracks which are relatively light in the soil and snow, whereas moose have heart-shaped tracks which are much deeper in the ground – often because of their greater size and weight.  As moose as solitary animals, their tracks usually show the presence of an individual animal unless it is during mating season.  However, elk are herd animals so their tracks often show the presence of several animals at the same time.

FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are moose and elk from the same family group?

Yes, both moose and elk are from the same family group – Cervidae.  However, the difference comes from their subfamilies.  Moose (Alces Alces) are from the subfamily Capreolinae which are known as New World deer.  Elk (Cervus canadensis) are from the subfamily Cervinae which are known as Old World deer.  As a basic difference, these two subfamilies differ by their bone and ankle structure.

How are killer whales and Greenland sharks predators of moose?

Although it might seem surprising that killer whales and Greenland sharks are predators of moose, it’s actually because moose frequently swim between the islands off the northwest coast of America.

Are moose and elk endangered?

Although there has been a decline in the population of moose in recent years they remain healthy and are not considered to be under threat.  According to IUCN data, the population of elk is actually increasing and they are not considered to be under threat either.

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About the Author

I have been writing professionally for several years with a focus on animals and wildlife. I love spending time in the outdoors and when not writing I can be found on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep, and pigs.

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