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Animals

Kidadl Team

AUGUST 05, 2021

The Musk Ox: 5 Facts You Won’t Believe!

One of the best musk ox facts is that the musk oxen is a part of the Bovidae family and has a thick coat with a strong odor giving rise to the name 'musk ox'.

Ovibos moschatus, native to the Arctic, is a beast that survived the Ice Age. This ox is recognized for its thick coat and strong odor from which its name originates. This musky odor is used by males to attract females during the mating season and the species local name name 'umingmak' literally translates to 'the bearded one'.

The typical muskox habitat ranges from the Alaskan musk ox which is found in Northern America to species that live in the Canadian Arctic, including the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and Greenland. There are also reintroduced populations in the Canadian territory of Yukon, Norway, and Siberia. The musk ox was widespread during the Pleistocene Epoch both geographically and genetically and this species has truly withstood the test of time. There are also currently reintroduced populations in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a Wildlife Conservation Center in Anchorage, Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, and Yukon's Wildlife Preserve.

The muskox lives in areas near a waterbody during summer, such as river valleys where they co-exist with other wildlife. During the winter, the musk ox moves to higher elevations to avoid snow. The primary predators of these muskoxen are humans and arctic wolves. The species is hunted fairly often for its precious qiviut and other predators may include grizzly and polar bears which prey on calves and infirm adults.

A female musk ox leads the entire herd once it is pregnant and methods of breeding and mating are hierarchy-based and depend upon the males dominating the herds. A female gives birth to a beautiful calf every summer after mating in the winter. The calf enjoys summer in the river valley and feeds upon grasses to nourish itself whilst the herd protects the calf from dangerous predators.

The evolutionary history of this species links it to different members of the family Bovidae. The bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) is one of the closest evolutionary links we can trace to this animal and whilst animals like the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) from India might seem to be closely linked to the naked eye, this is not the case. You can read more about different animals, including the pot belly pig and the water vole

Musk Ox Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a musk ox?

The musk ox is a mammal closely related to sheep and goats. The musk ox is not buffalo, despite popular belief.

What class of animal does a musk ox belong to?

The musk ox belongs to the Mammalia class.

How many musk oxen are there in the world?

The musk oxen population is estimated to be around 80,000 to 125,000.

Where does a musk ox live?

The musk ox can be found in the Arctic tundra region.

What is a musk ox's habitat?

A typical musk ox habitat is in Greenland, North America, Alaska, and parts of Russia. This species has even been artificially introduced in small numbers to some Scandanavian nations.

Who do musk oxen live with?

Muskoxen live in herds of 12-24 during both winter and summer.

How long does a musk ox live?

The lifespan of these North American deep snow Arctic animals lies somewhere between 12-20 years.

How do they reproduce?

Muskoxen are herd animals, and a single female of the species can lead the entire herd. The reason for this lies in the breeding pattern of the species. Male dominance and the creation of age-based hierarchies are the primary factors contributing to these beasts' breeding patterns. Musk oxen bulls roar and fight amongst each other to show dominance before a mating season and the bulls which win this musk ox fight go on to breed with multiple cows from the herds. The mating season months begin around late June or July, the breeding occurs during late August and into September and the gestation period is between 7.5-8.5 months, after which females give birth to calves. The pregnant female leads the entire tribe through the snow so that they take a pathway of a lower elevation oh er choosing. After 10-14 months of depending on their mothers, musk oxen calves may join a different herd.

What is their conservation status?

The musk oxen's conservation status shows that the species is under no serious threat, as the population is currently classified as Least Concern. The musk oxen population is scattered and is of low density, but it is stable. The population of these furry animals does face problems, though, often due to sudden environmental changes but this in no way is a threat to the survival of the population as a whole.

Musk Ox Fun Facts

What do musk oxen look like?

A musk ox horn is short and it curls upwards on each side of their head. These horns play an important role both in defense and in showcasing dominance during the mating season. These animals are dark brown or black and this Arctic tundra animal has long, coarse outer guard hairs on its body. A small tail is concealed beneath their fur. These Arctic musk ox tundra animals possess soft and strong qiviut wool under their thick fur. This qiviut wool is even more refined in cows (females) and young calves. These animals are closely related to goats and sheep, unlike the popular belief that they are related to animals like the bison and buffalo.

This furry beautiful dark brown musk ox looks peaceful but has a powerful ram.

How cute are they?

The thick musk ox fur found on these beasts makes them look very cute. Musk oxen calves are soft and adorable animals, so much so that these furry animals have become somewhat of an internet sensation!

How do they communicate?

Musk oxen bulls (males) communicate with loud roars during the mating season. Roaring in females is usually used to communicate with their young calves.

How big is a musk ox?

The average musk ox size can be up to twice as large as the size of a bison. The typical musk ox weight can range from 331-882 lb (150-400 kg) in adults.

How fast can a musk ox run?

The musk ox is not built for regular running, but it can reach speeds of up to 37 mph (60 kmph) if a situation demands it.

How much does a musk ox weigh?

A male musk ox weighs 441-882 lb (200-400 kg) whilst a female musk ox weighs 331-441 lb  (150-200 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

Muskoxen males are called bulls, while female muskoxen are called cows.

What would you call a baby musk ox?

Muskoxen babies are called calves.

What do they eat?

The musk ox diet comprises various plants, including grasses, sedges, and woody plants. Musk oxen cannot dig through heavy snow for food, so the winter months restrict these arctic snow beasts.

Are they dangerous?

Musk oxen can be aggressive, particularly during their breeding period. Their curvy large horns are a scary weapon to face and these horns can drive away the biggest of musk ox predators.

Would they make a good pet?

Muskoxen are not the safest animal to be domesticated. Their horns can be a deadly threat to human lives and these are wild animals that are much larger than us and can be extremely aggressive.

Did you know...

One of the best musk ox facts for kids is that muskox release a strong smell in their urine known as 'musk'. Males also have much larger and curvier horns than females and competitors during the mating period challenge one another with intimidating postures using their horns.

Another of the most interesting facts about musk ox animals is that musk oxen often form groups with up to 60 other animals during harsh winters with heavy snowfall. The musk oxen herd is among the few which form a cooperative barrier to protect young members of their family. They do this by creating a near-impenetrable circle around their young.

What are musk oxen used for?

Musk ox hunting for musk ox meat is a tradition in some cultures in North America and Alaska. The wool of this animal is also widely used for various purposes. Their wool is softer than cashmere wool and stronger than the famous Mariano wools so clothes made from this special wool are very effective in extreme winter conditions. The meat obtained from these hoofed mammals is also seen as a gourmet delicacy. It is a lean and versatile meat that melts in your mouth and tends to have even more flavor than beef does. Hunting musk ox in the state of Alaska to make stuffed musk ox Italian style hamburgers has become a specialty of the state, but the morality of the consumption of musk ox (and cattle in general) is a big debate.

Are musk oxen endangered?

No, musk oxen are not endangered. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including the brown hare, or leopard seal.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our musk ox coloring pages.

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