Why do Moose have Bells?

How to see Moose on the Gunflint Trail

We’ve all been seeing many moose around this spring on the Gunflint Trail, and I like it.

Do you notice the piece of skin and hair—the dewlap— hanging under her chin? I’m calling this one a “her” because she had a calf in the weeds, which was why we quickly left her alone. There’s not a great way for me to otherwise distinguish the hims and hers in this season of the year before antlers emerge. The gender of the one in the video? I do not know.

At any rate, the dewlaps, or bells, or moostaches, are a mystery. Both males and females have them, but male bells tend to be larger. Some of them are fat and 20 inches long, some are just tufts of hair.

The moose experts aren’t in agreement as to the purpose of the dewlap. Some say it helps with heat regulation. The long strands that sometimes hang down can also freeze and break off in the winter. Ouch.

Apparently they reach their biggest magnitudes on the chins of 3-5 year old bull moose.

Many biologists speculate that dewlaps (bells) play a part in the mating rituals, perhaps for dispensing scents (from bull urine and saliva, if that could ever be appealing). Perhaps size and shape are attractiveness indicators.

I’m thinking that the bells have to get caught up in the brush sometimes, and that can’t be comfortable. And that is all I know.

-Written by Sue Ahrendt

Moose on the Gunflint Trail Moose Pond Drive near Saganaga Lake

Spring is a great time to see moose on the Gunflint Trail, because they prefer cool temperatures under 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the lack of snow allows them to move through the forest with ease. In May, watch for cow moose with their newborn calves. Be respectful and observe the new family from a distance.

As you can see in the photo below, you have to look closely for moose. With their mottled brown coats, moose often blend into the background, especially before the trees and scrubs leaf out.

Peekaboo Moose in the Superior National Forest

There’s no secret trick for how to see a moose on Gunflint Trail, other than going out frequently and looking carefully. You’re most likely to see a moose feeding and moose favor swampy areas where they can feast on a couple of their favorite foods: water lilies and willow branches. On great spot to look for moose is the beaver pond on the Round Lake Road on the way to Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters. As temperatures heat up in the summer,  moose are more likely to feed in the cooler dusk and dawn.


Moose on the edge of Saganaga Lake on the Gunflint Trail