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Uploaded:2021-02-02
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So, moose licking cars in winter is a thing, if you live in a place that has both moose and winter. But why on earth do they do this?!

Hosted by: Stefan Chin

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Sources:
https://doi.org/10.2193/2007-504
https://doi.org/10.2193/2006-459
http://flash.lakeheadu.ca/~arodgers/Alces/Vol40/Alces40_161.pdf
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30479487/
https://doi.org/10.1016/S0005-2736(00)00135-8

Image Sources:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/381555
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66114642
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/45742098
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/43158257
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/31357071
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36613899
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40654901
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/45137409
https://youtu.be/SmzyL2zI_5o
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yubI8ktJqFM
Special thanks to Paul Greci, award winning author of Surviving Bear Island, The Wild Lands and Hostile Territory
Special thanks to NPS Photo/Emily Williams
[♪ INTRO].

If you’re in moose country in winter, you might glimpse a strange sight: a moose licking a car. Yes, this is an actual thing.

And they get really into it. This might seem a bit odd. But it’s not that they're confused or trying to express their love of a slick paint job.

They do it because the car is covered in salt. And salt is such a treat to them that they will literally lick a car to get it! Now, when we say “salt”, we generally mean sodium chloride: your classic table salt.

And it just so happens that sodium is a vital nutrient — and not just for moose. All animals need it to stay alive. Like, to send nerve signals and contract muscles.

But in the places where moose usually live, salt is pretty hard to come by. Plus, their plant-based diet is especially low in sodium. That’s because sodium is actually sort of bad for most plants, and they actively exclude it.

So, to meet their needs, moose have to look elsewhere. In summer, they may be able to gorge themselves on aquatic plants that are much richer in sodium. Or, they can find themselves a salt lick.

These are muddy, wet places with a high concentration of minerals. And moose love them — once they know where a lick is, they’ll visit the spot regularly to socialize and fulfill their salt craving. But in the winter, most licks are buried in snow.

And also in the winter: humans dump literally tons of salt on roads to de-ice them. So, roads get covered in salty water, which splashes up onto cars and dries there. And presto: you’ve got mobile salt licks.

Now, if you don’t see the problem here, let me remind you that adult moose weigh several hundred kilograms. And most of that weight is balanced on top of their very long legs. Like, a full-grown male would have to duck to get his antlers through your front doorway.

So when moose meet traffic? That’s really uncomfortable for the moose and drivers alike. Most of the time, moose avoid roads because the noise and the lights just kind of freak them out.

But salt is so important to them that they’ll go out of their way to get it, even if it means getting into an uncomfortable situation. And that’s why it’s important to avoid teaching them that roads and cars are good sources of salt. So there are a few things that wildlife managers and other folks can do to help with this.

Like, in the spring, leftover road salt can be dumped far from roads. This gives the moose a safe place to get their fill, and it looks more like a natural salt lick. Other tricks are to drain salty puddles that form along the side of the road and fill them with rocks, or to clear vegetation away from the roadside to make moose feel a little less comfortable there.

We could also consider de-icing our roads with a chemical that doesn’t have sodium — like calcium chloride. But for now, those substances are too expensive for widespread use. In the meantime, if you see a moose approaching your car, please resist the urge to pull out your selfie stick.

Moose are incredibly dangerous! And car licking is a bad habit that should not be encouraged. So, the best thing to do is slowly and safely drive away.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! And a special thank you to our patrons on Patreon. You’re helping make videos like this free for everyone, because we couldn’t make SciShow without our patrons’ support.

And if you’re not a patron but supporting educational science videos sounds like it might be your jam, you can learn more about joining our patron community at Patreon.com/SciShow [♪ OUTRO].