Musk Ox Fact File
The musk ox is a large animal with a body shape similar to a cow. They are found in cold environments and to combat this they have a thick coat of dark brown guard hairs which covers their entire body and will almost reach to the ground helping to carry rain and snow away from the body. This is supported by an undercoat of soft pale brown hairs which provide insulation. Each hair may grow up to 60cm (24in) long.
Their undercoat hairs are known as qiviut and is considered one of the warmest, lightest furs on Earth.
In comparison to their massive body they have short legs, a short tail and neck. The tail measures between 9 and 10cm (3.5-4in) long.
On top of the head are a pair of curved horns which almost meet in the middle of their head. These are colored a pale white. These horns will measure up to 60cm (24in) long on males. Males have larger horns than females.
Their body will measure 1.9 and 2.3m (6.25-7.5ft) long with an average weight of between 200 and 410kg (440-900lbs) with males tending to be larger than females. At the shoulder they stand 135cm (53in) long.
Musk Ox are herbivores. Their diet is composed of sedges, grasses, shrubs, forbs and willows. Flowers are also consumed in summer. Fresh food is only available for part of the year. For the rest of the year they will paw at the snow and feed on the dried plants underneath.
Eating occurs in lowland areas during summer while they tend to move to higher ground in winter. This higher ground is typically cleared of snow by the wind.
While food is plentiful in summer they will eat large amounts of food to create a fat reserve which helps them to survive through winter.
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North America is the native home of the musk ox. Here they can be found in the north of Canada and the US state of Alaska. A population can also be found in Greenland.
A population has also been reintroduced to Russia where they could be found naturally until 2,000 years ago. Another population was introduced to Norway and the island of Svlabard. On Svalbard they have since gone extinct.
These animals are one of the few large mammals which can be found in the cold environment of the Arctic year round.
They make their home on tundra grasslands.
Males undertake their rutting season when they will battle over females during the last two months of summer. The successful male will command a herd of females with which he mates.
The females give birth to their single calf after a 244-252 day gestation period. Twins are possible but it is rare for both to survive. This birth typically occurs prior to the snow melting and the female will use her fat reserve to provide milk for the calf.
Calves are standing soon after their birth and can follow the herd. They are reliant on the mother for food and warmth.
A calf will follow its mother and will keep warm by hiding among her guard hairs.
Males do not provide direct care to the calf but will help protect them as part of the herd.
Females are able to mature anytime between 1 and 4 years old with males maturing between 3 and 4 years old.
Calving may occur every year if food is plentiful.
Musk ox will live in small herds. These include a number of females led by a dominant male while spare males will form a bachelor herd. Each herd may include between 20 and 30 members.
Males participate in fights using the horns to provide defense. The collisions may generate a noise which can be heard up to 1.6km (1 mile) away.
They produce a range of vocalizations. Calves will bleat to communicate with their mother. Adults produce a range of roars and rumbles which can carry across long distances. As they mature their voice deepens.
Non-verbal communication they will use include stomping, snorting and head turns or swinging.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the musk ox include wolves, grizzly and polar bears.
When threatened by one of these predators a herd of musk ox will form a circle and face outwards. The calves are placed in the middle of the circle where they are protected by the adults.
Previously the population of musk ox declined due to over-hunting. Since the introduction of restrictions on hunting in the 1900s their numbers have recovered.
It is thought that the climate change will lead to a further decrease in their population.
The name musk ox is derived from their musky odor and their resemblance to the ox.
Musk ox have been roaming the Earth for over 600,000 years.
These animals are placed in the caprine subfamily of bovids along with the true goats and sheep.
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