THE MOOSE BELL: A VISUAL OR OLFACTORY COMMUNICATOR
Two current hypotheses that explain the evolutionary significance of the moose (Alces alces) bell are: 1) during the rut the male bell disseminates and transfers by contact, the urine of the bowl close to or directly onto the cow, and; 2) the bell acts as a visual cue that relates to sex and age, which in turn may be associated with rank. We tested the first hypothesis by describing wallowing behavior, and determining whether females initiated contact with bulls’ bells more than expected by chance. The second hypothesis was tested by comparing bell morphology in two populations of moose, and by relating the outcome of agonistic interactions to bell shape. Observations on wallowing behavior supported the hypothesis that the bell acts as a carrier of olfactory cues. However, females make physical contact with male bells less than expected by chance. Populations in Alaska and Ontario had similar age- and sex-related variations in bell shape. No relationship was found between bell morphology and dominance among females or among males during the antlerless period. We hypothesize that bell shape is a secondary sexual characteristic most important during the rut, and that moose may use bell morphology to assess social status of conspecifics.
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