Despite being named the muskox, this animal is more closely related to sheep and goats than oxen. They are one of the largest members in the subfamily Caprinae, and are known (and named) for their musky odor, which males use to attract mates. Muskoxen live in the far north of North America, with introduced populations in northern Europe.
1. Scientific & Common Names
4. Present Status
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order – Artiodactyla
Family – Bovidae
Subfamily – Caprinae
Genus - Ovibos
Species – O. moschatus
Common Name – Muskox, Musk-Ox, Musk Ox. May be two subspecies, the White-Faced Muskox (O. m. wardi) and the Barren Ground Muskox (O. m. moschatus)
Muskoxen have thick, shaggy coats and long, curving horns. They can be up to 5 feet high and 8 feet long. Their coats are a mixture of gray, brown and black. Occasionally, muskoxen are born with all white fur. Their fur and horns often make them appear bigger than they actually are.
During the mating season, male muskoxen give off a strong odor to attract and impress females. The males fight amongst themselves to win mates. After the rutting season while the females gestate, they become more aggressive and assume leadership roles over the herd. Gestation lasts 8 or 9 months.
Muskoxen travel in herds, with older animals exerting dominance over younger ones. They roam the Arctic tundra eating moss, roots and lichen. They have a unique defensive behavior when the herd is threatened: the adults will gather in a circle facing outward, protecting the young who remain in the center of the circle. Their predators include wolves, and rarely polar bears. Muskoxen typically move slowly, but are capable of short bursts of speed up to 25 miles per hour.
The muskox is believed to have migrated from Siberia to North America across a land bridge where the Bering Strait now resides, around 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Their numbers were once much more widespread and diverse, but they are now restricted to the uppermost areas of North America. Today, muskoxen are occasionally domesticated for their meat, milk, and wool, which is highly prized.
Muskoxen are a species of “Least Concern”. They were previously in danger of being overhunted, but protections put in place have led to recovery and there are currently estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 muskoxen in the wild today. Of the two varieties, the barren ground muskox is the less common, numbering around 5,000.
Princeton Field Guides - Bovids of the World: Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives; Jose R. Castello, 2016.