Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musk Ox

The Muskox is actually one of the animals that did not make my Alaska Week final cut, but here they are now! By popular demand! Muskoxen are large arctic bovids that can be found throughout Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia. They live farther north than any other hoofed mammal. Despite the name they are actually more closely related to goats and sheep than they are to actual oxen.

Defensive Formation from AlaskaOne
Muskoxen haven't changed a whole lot since the last ice age, and have probably existed pretty much as-is for 600,000 years. They are perfectly adapted to the arctic climate with long guard hairs growing nearly two feet long and thick, woolly undercoats. The guard coat protects against the elements, as well as insects. The undercoat of a Muskox is 8 times warmer than sheep wool! They can continue to function at temperatures of -40°C. Most the males and females of the species have horns, though those of the bulls are larger. The average adult weighs around 650lbs, with the males out-sizing the females. The top weight for Muskoxen is nearly 900lbs.

While we're on the topic of weight, calves are around 20-30lbs at birth and will reach well over 200 by their first year. Muskoxen are harem breeders, meaning one bull will mate with multiple females. Males of the species will fight each other over mates. One practice they take part in is starting about 150ft apart and then charging at each other at 25mph before headbutting. Females give birth about once every two years. The calves must stick close to their woolly parents for fear of freezing.

Cow and Calf from Alaska In Pictures
Muskoxen have few predators in the wild. Wolves are one of the handful of species that can take down fullgrown adults. When threatened, the Muskoxen form a circle with all of the bulls and cows facing outwards, protecting the calves within the circle. Unfortunately, this formation does not protect them against bullets, as the Muskoxen were almost hunted to complete extinction. The currently populations in Siberia and Scandinavia were reintroduced, as the native herds had been killed off decades earlier.

Thanks John for the suggestion!


  1. I love watching the Musk-Ox at the local Wildlife Reserve. I felt bad for them last summer though as it was 30 Degrees Celsius outside. Needless to say they weren't moving around too much.

    You are right when you say they are perfectly adapted to the Arctic climate. These are the animals I think of when you mention the Arctic. It is incredible to think they haven't changed their appearance for such a long time. I guess if it isn't broken then don't fix it.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. 'Bovines'? Not a word to use describing something related to goats and sheep rather than oxen.

    Semantics aside, these animals are highly valued for that soft, woolly undercoat, known as quiviut, which is a rare, valuable, and quite expensive wool for knitting. There are some organizations in Colorado and elsewhere that are raising these animal domestically. I am interested myself, but they cannot handle hot weather well, and clipping their coats would kind of miss the point.

    1. Ah! Thanks for the catch. Should have said "Bovids" not "Bovines" as they are members of the Bovidae family.


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