Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Bovidae
Size:    Length: 75 to 91 inches (190 to 230 cm)  Height: 3 to 5 feet (91 to 150 cm)
Weight: 396 to 900 pounds (180 to 408 kg)
Diet: Grass and leaves
Distribution: Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the Arctic
Young:  1 calf, once every two years
Animal Predators:  Polar bears and wolves
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Calf    Male: Bull   Female: Cow  Group:  Herd
Lifespan: Up to 24 years



·       Musk oxen live farther north than any other hoofed animals.

·       Although they have no musk glands, males give off a musky scent during mating season.

·       Inuits call the musk ox “oomingmak,” meaning “bearded one.”

·       Inuit women knit the wool of the musk ox into expensive and exquisite sweaters.

·       The scientific name is Latin meaning Ovis—a sheep; bos—an ox; moschatus—musky.



Although they resemble bison, musk oxen are neither bison nor oxen—they are more closely related to goats and sheep. Their closest relative is believed to be the Asian takin. Musk oxen can withstand severe arctic temperatures as low as -100º F (-73º C) because of an undercoat of fine wool, known as qiviut. The wool is as soft as cashmere and eight times warmer than sheep’s wool. Each musk ox sheds five to seven pounds of wool naturally each spring. Their outer coat is dark brown to black in colour, made up of hairs up to 24 inches (62 cm) in length. Both males and females have large horns, and males have a thick shield that protects their skull during the annual mating season. Males are larger than females. Musk oxen have excellent sight and hearing and can run quickly when necessary.



Musk oxen are native to northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska and other northern areas. In the summer, they live in wet areas such as river valleys and lakeshores, whereas in the winter, they move to high elevations with deep snow. It is believed that many years ago, musk oxen came to North America when an ice bridge was formed joining Europe and North America. Scientists believe musk oxen lived as far south as Ohio and France at one time.


Feeding Habits

Musk oxen graze on grass and leaves.



Mating occurs from July to September, when the males fight each other for the right to mate with a female. Gestation lasts eight to nine months and results in a single birth, with twins occurring rarely. Calves weigh 18 to 25 pounds (8 to 11 kg) at birth and are able to stand almost right away. They begin eating vegetation within a week but may keep nursing up to a year. Females usually do not begin to breed until after the age of two, and males after the age of five. 



Musk oxen are social animals that live in herds of 10 to 100, but usually 10 to 20. During the winter, groups consist of both males and females, but in the summer, the dominant male of a group drives out other adult males, creating a harem of females. The subordinate males form bachelor groups or become solitary, searching for another group where they might be able to achieve dominance. When threatened, musk oxen make a circle around their young, facing outwards. Occasionally a bull will leave the ring to charge the predator. This defence is extremely effective against polar bears and wolves, but useless against guns and humans, as the musk oxen just stand and get shot. 



In Alaska, musk oxen were hunted to extinction by the 1860s, but were reintroduced thanks to the Musk Ox Project, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and help from the University of Alaska. The reintroduced musk ox population is increasing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent annually. Hunting musk oxen is now prohibited by law.



Musk Ox Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US