Barneblad: Moose or Elk?

Photo: Steven Depolo / Flickr Hi. I’m Alces Alces, but you might call me either Moose or Elk, depending on where you live. My smaller cousin Cervus Canadensis goes by either Elk or Wapiti, or just the nickname Deer.

Photo: Steven Depolo / Flickr
Hi. I’m Alces Alces, but you might call me either Moose or Elk, depending on where you live. My smaller cousin Cervus Canadensis goes by either Elk or Wapiti, or just the nickname Deer.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

In Australia a diaper is called a nappie and a napkin a serviette. The German word for cat (katze) sounds like kot (Poland) and kita (Iraq) but nothing like the word pak (Tanzania) or dmet (Ethiopia). Words are funny things, aren’t they?

One word that confuses people is the English word for elg. Is it a moose? Is it an elk? To make it easier to figure that out what a Norwegian elg actually is, let’s look at the Latin names.

Every living thing is divided into different categories:
Kingdom: This category divides animals (including humans and insects) from plants (there are six kingdoms in all).

Phylum: This category divides the kingdoms (there are over 30 phyla in the animal kingdom, and 9-10 in the plant kingdom). Phylum Chordata includes all animals with backbones (including us). Creatures with hard external skeletons like insects, spiders, and lobsters are in the Phylum Anthropoda.

Class: If we divide Phylum Chordata (our phylum), we get different classes: amphibians, birds, mammals (that’s us), reptiles, and fish.

Order: Sometimes it isn’t always clear which order things are in, but order divides things even more. Sounds like trying to clean my room!

Family: This is where we will start to talk about the family (or clan) called Deer. Mr. Elk, Mrs. Moose, Cousin Roe deer, and Uncle Reindeer are all in the same family even though they are different from each other. It’s kind of like being an American and having relatives you don’t know who live in Norway. You have never met them but you know you are still part of the same big family.

Genus: This category breaks the family into more groups. Kind of like having cousins who live in a different state and an Aunt and Uncle who live overseas.

Species: These are the different individuals in each of the smaller genus groups.

REMEMBER! Genus is listed first in the animal’s name and species second (like your common last name, then your individual first name).

So… back to the Norwegian elg
The scientific family name for all types of deer (including elg) is Cervidae.

Animals in the Cervidae family all have solid antlers, which they lose at some time during the year.

1. Reindeer (also called Caribou in North America) are in the genus Rangifer and the species Tarandus. They are called Rangifer Tarandus.
FUN FACT: Most Norwegian reindeer are domesticated, but wild ones can be found on Svalbard and in mountainous regions in the south.

2. Moose/European Elk are the genus Alces and the species Alces. They are called Alces Alces.
NOTE: this is what Norwegians call elg or moose when they translate it conversationally to English. It is different than what North Americans call Elk (see #3).
FUN FACT: The antlers of a male elk can span more than 150 cm and an adult elk can be up to 230 cm tall at the shoulder and weigh between 400 and 800 kg.

3. Elk from North America (or Wapati) and Eurasian Red Deer (called hjort in Norwegian) are in the genus Cervus. They are, however, different species, so the second part of their name is different.
• Eurasian red deer or hjort are called Cervus Elaphus
• Elk or Wapati are called Cervus Canadensis
NOTE: This Elk or Wapati is a different animal than European Elk.

4. Not all animals we call deer are alike either. Roe deer (rådyr) comes from the genus Capreolus and the species Capreolus, but white-tailed deer is from the genus Odocoileus and the species Virginianus. Uff da.
FUN FACT: Rådyr used to be only in parts of eastern Norway, but they have spread to most of the country.

So in a nutshell…
Norwegian Elg are called Moose in North America and European Elk in Europe BUT when Europeans talk about them in English they call them Moose. Elk in North American are called Wapati. Double uffda.

This article is a part of Barneblad, a monthly feature by Heidi Håvan Grosch to share with kids and grandkids.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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