Muskox (Ovibos moschatus)
Soapstone carving of Muskox done by native craftsperson
The muskox, known as the Oomingmak to the Alaskan natives, are huge. The word Oomingmak means "the animal with skin like a beard" to the Inupiaq speaking Eskimos. Their extraordinary fur coat covers their whole body even the udder. The Muskox is closely related to the Takin, found in the Himalayas. It is classified by Taxonomists with sheep and goats.
Characteristics and Physical Features of the Muskox
Distinguishing Characteristics: Horns - broad and flat and plastered close to skull. Record distance between tips of horns is 29.74 in.
Breeding: 1 calf every other year.
Range: Northern tundra areas and Nunivak Island in Alaska. This includes northern Alaska, Canada, Ellesmere Island and Greenland.
Diet: Wide variety of plants, including grasses, sedges, forbs, and woody plants. One of their favorite foods is willow.
What is a boss?
Boss is the name of the muskox horn. Their skulls are like heavy armor to protect them from being hurt when they fight. It is estimated that when muskox bulls hit head-on its equivalent to a car driving into a concrete wall at 17 mph (27km/h). The boss is four inches of horn and three inches of bone that lies directly over the brain with no other skull in between.
How can a muskox calf stand -30ºF weather?
The muskox coat and hooves keep them warm in the cold arctic weather which can reach 70ºF. If their fur were not like it is they would die. The muskox has two kinds of fur. The outer fur is coarse and stiff. The under fur is soft and able to keep the muskox very warm. The fur of the muskox is 3-4 inches thick. Even the young calves are able to survive by themselves when the temperatures get down to -30ºF.
Will a muskox attack another muskox?
The only time that muskox fight among themselves is during breeding season. Then they fight just like a lot of other animals do. But they don't fight for dominance in the herd. They just fight for the right to breed. The rest of the time the whole herd lives together and dominance within the herd isn't a big part of their life. The older bulls are the leaders of the group.
Can a muskox kill a grizzly bear?
When muskoxen are attacked by a grizzly the first thing that the herd does is get into a circle, facing outward. They place the calves inside the circle to keep them safe. This circle is almost impossible for a predator to penetrate. Sometimes one of the bulls will break out of the circle to go fight the animal that is attacking. When he does this the rest of the circle quickly closes so that other attackers can't get in. When a grizzly attacks the muskox will always win because of its powerful charge. It uses its boss like a battering ram against predators or like a spear it picks up smaller animals like a wolf, and throws them so high that the leg of the attackers will break when it falls. Sometimes the defending muskox will throw the predator back into the herd and the rest of the herd will trample the attacker.
How do you know when a muskox is going to charge?
Before charging they always do one thing that alerts you. They tip their head down and press their nose against their knee. This releases a musky smelling liquid from a gland near their nose.
Why do muskoxen like to live near rivers?
Even though muskox live on the tundra if there is a river nearby they will try to stay near it. They do this because their favorite food grows there. The willow plant is this favorite food.
What poses the most danger to a muskox?
You might not think it but the little mosquito is very dangerous to the muskox. It is actually a danger to most animals living in the Arctic. The reason it is dangerous is because the mosquito carries a lot of diseases and when it bites the muskox it can cause a lot of infection. There aren't a lot of areas that a mosquito can bite on a muskox so it will usually go after its nose.
Do muskoxen really stink?
Muskoxen are really pretty clean animals in the wild. They only look like they would stink because of how shaggy their coat looks. Sometimes when muskox are in captivity they do smell.
Why is a muskoxen's best defense also its worst?
Although their protective ring is very effective against animal predators it makes them like "sitting ducks" to men. Since men hunt with guns the muskox is very vulnerable to being killed by man in their protective ring. After firearms came to the arctic in the mid-1800s the muskoxen were wiped out.
How did muskoxen get back in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
After the muskoxen were all killed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 34 muskoxen from Greenland and brought them to Alaska in 1930. They put them on Nunivak Island. It is off the west coast of Alaska. After the herd had gotten large enough they took 40 of them and moved them to ANWR. In 1980 there were nearly 400. They had divided themselves into three separate herds.
How do arctic people benefit from the muskoxen?
The soft underfur of the Oomingmak is used by native people to create many knitted items. They use the fur of them muskox because it is one of the warmest furs known to man. Native people call this underfur "Qiviut". It is eight times warmer than wool and it is much lighter too. It is even lighter than cashmere.
Written by Joel