Interesting facts about musk ox


The muskox (Ovibos moschatus) also spelled musk ox and musk-ox is an Arctic mammal of the Bovidae family.

Musk-oxen primarily live in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, with small introduced populations in Sweden, Siberia, Norway, and Alaska.

Musk-Ox’s habitat is the Arctic tundra.

The lifespan of musk-ox is from 12 to 20 years in the wild and up to 27 years in the captivity.

Musk Oxen have a stocky build and a pronounced shoulder hump.

Muskoxen stand 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft) high at the shoulder, with females measuring 135 to 200 cm (4.4 to 6.6 ft) in length, and the larger males 200 to 250 cm (6.6 to 8.2 ft). The small tail measures only 10 cm (3.9 in) long.


Adults, on average, weigh 285 kg (630 lb) and range from 180 to 410 kg (400 to 900 lb).

Musk-oxen are well-adapted to their extreme environment with a superbly insulated, long, thick coat of dark brown hair and woolly undercoat called qiviut. This undercoat falls out when temperatures climb at winter’s end.

The muskox’s coat ranges in color from dark brown to almost black, with the lower legs, faces, and backs light brown to white.


The muskox’s short, stocky legs and large, rounded hooves enable the animal to move through shallow snow and to be an agile climber on snow and rock.

Muskoxen have sharp horns with rounded bases on the forehead which curve down and outward, and then upward like large hooks. The bull’s horns are much larger than the cow’s and are used during fights over females. Both males and females use their horns to dominate other muskoxen and to fight off predators.

Musk oxen eat grass, sedges, flowers, roots, moss and lichen during the summer when plants are easily available. In winter, they use their hooves to dig through snow to graze on more easily obtainable shrubs, woody plants, crowberry, bearberry and willows.

musk oxen eating

In the summer, musk oxen often feed near water, eating throughout the daylight hours to store up fat for the winter.

Musk-oxen are social animals and are usually found in herds. Herds can be as small as 3 animals or as large as 100 animals. Usually there are about 15 animals in a herd.


Within the herd, the dominant bull provides leadership, taking the lead in repelling predators, fording rivers and leading the group. There is also a dominance hierarchy within the cow herd, and certain females assume the leadership role in cow herds. Lone musk-ox seen during late summer are either old and senile bulls or young bulls that have been driven away from the herd by a dominant bull.

When threatened, they “circle the wagons” and array themselves with their young in the middle and their sharp horns facing outward toward their foes. A cornered musk-ox can be a fearsome enemy, charging with its massive bulk and attempting to use its horns to deadly effect.


Males secrete musky substance (hence the name musk-ox) from the glands located underneath their eyes to to mark their territory and attract the females.

The mating season for Musk Oxen begins in late summer and early fall. Males will compete for dominance over a harem of females, and a single male will mate with several females. The gestation period will then last approximately 8 months and the female will give birth to one calf in the spring.

Within a few hours of birth, calves are able to follow their mothers back to the protection of the herd. The young nurse for approximately 1 year but during that time they also graze on grasses.

musk ox mother and baby

The primary predators of muskoxen are Arctic wolves, which may account for up to half of all mortality for the species. Other occasional predators, likely mainly predators of calves or infirm adults, can include grizzly bears and polar bears.

They became extinct across much of their range in Europe and Alaska, largely as a result of over-hunting, but have been successfully reintroduced.

The current world population of muskoxen is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000.

Muskoxen are occasionally domesticated for wool, meat, and milk.

The wool, qiviut, is highly prized for its softness, length, and insulation value. Prices for yarn range between $40 and $80 per ounce (28 grams).

A muskox can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph).

Its Inuktitut name “umingmak” translates to “the bearded one.”

As members of the subfamily Caprinae of the family Bovidae, muskoxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen; however, they are placed in their own genus, Ovibos (means literally “sheep-ox”).

During the Ice Age, muskoxen were found as far south as Kansas, but as the ice and tundra receded northward, so did the muskox.