The musk ox, also known as Ovibos moschatus, is an ancient species of arctic mammal currently found in remote areas of the far north, including Greenland, Alaska, Canada and Siberia. During the Pleistocene, musk ox wandered across the Bering Land Bridge to populate North America with the likes of the woolly mammoth, saber-toothed cat, and giant ground sloth. They provide us with Qiviut fiber.
The musk oxen are large animals that look a lot like bisons or buffalos, but are significantly smaller than cows and provide wool like sheep. Its long, brown fur hangs almost to its feet. It is peaceful animals that only eat plants and are full-grown at the age of six.
Musk oxen are one of the oldest species of mammals still living today. About one million years ago the ancestors of these bovines roamed the steppes of Northern Asia, along with the mammoth. They are acclimatized the barren arctic deserts with its extreme cold and food with low nutritive value.
Males (bulls) typically stand 4½ to 5 feet at the shoulder and can weigh up to 800 pounds. Females (cows) are much smaller, averaging approximately 4 feet in height and weighing up to 500 pounds.
The stocky musk ox has a cold-resistant, dark brown or black fur. Its coat contains thick guard hairs that nearly touch the ground and protect a very dense, wooly inner layer called qiviut (pronounced kiv-ee-ute), which sheds in the spring.
The male has thick horns that almost meet on top of its head in what is called a “boss.” The horns curve down around his face and out at the ends. The female has considerably smaller horns, without a boss. Instead the top of her head is covered with whitish hair.
In the middle of the 18. century musk oxen were extinct in north America and only lived in Greenland. Species from Greenland were moved to Canada, and today they live wild in Canada, and are farmraised in Alaska, Canada and Montana. There are experiments at certain farms with a groth hormone, methionine, which should make the wool longer
In Greenland the Musk ox lives as it has allways done, in the wild, forming small herds in the arctic desert land. It is fully grown at the age of 6 and there are strict hunting quota to ensure the population.
The musk ox sheds its fleece once a year, typically in spring, and grows a new layer each fall. It usually bears only one calf every two years. The fleece yield is five to seven pounds per musk ox, which is cleaned and de-haired.
In Greenland, some inuit collect the wool from shrubs and rocks, but that wool is used only in the family. Every year a number of animals are hunted by local hunters, the meat sold in the local market. The hides are now sold to my supplier, the wool are cleaned and dehaired, sent to England to be cleaned again, and finally shipped til Denmark to be spun – and become the yarn I sell.
Life Span/Social Structure
Cows may live more than 20 years, but the average lifespan is much less. On average, bulls die at a younger age than cows because of the increased risks of injury during fights over females.
Social by nature, muskoxen live in medium-sized groups of 10 to 20 individuals during the winter. During the summer, a dominant bull drives out the other males, forming a harem.
Bulls fight for dominance with threats, loud bellows, and ferocious head butting during breeding season, which occurs late summer. Two males will engage in a ritualized display designed to intimidate each other, including pawing at the ground, walking stiff-legged, and aggressively swinging their massive horns. Following the displays, the bulls will face-off and back up 100 feet or so before charging together at speeds close to 35 miles per hour. The head smashing may continue for up to a dozen times before one bull quits and submits to the other.
Gestation lasts eight to nine months, and a single calf is born late spring or early summer. Twins occur, but are extremely rare.
When threatened, muskoxen form a defensive formation around their young.
They will first run to a higher location, then turn and stand shoulder-toshoulder in a circle facing their enemies. With their heads lowered, they form an impenetrable wall.
The Arctic wolf is the muxkox’s only serious predator.
Musk Ox - Properties
|Classification||The musk ox is related to other bovines like antelopes and cattle, but is more closely relate to the goats and
sheep (subfamily Caprinae).
|Distribution||A circumpolar species found in the Arctic tundra of North America from Alaska to Greenland and most arctic islands. There are small introduced populations in Russia, Scandinavia, and Svalbard.|
|Habitat||Musk oxen live north of timberline on the arctic tundra.|
What Does It Eat?
What Eats It?
|Social Organization||Musk oxen live in herds of 10-20 animals. In winter the herds consist of adult males, females and young. In the spring, the sexes separate into groups. During the mating season in July and August, males and females come together again and the males compete for dominance. The dominant male drives other adult males out of the herd. Non-breeding males may form all male groups of three to 10 animals or may wander alone. After the mating season is over, mixed groups form again. In winter, musk oxen head to higher altitudes where winds blow the snow off the ground and they can reach vegetation.|
|Life Cycle||Females are sexually mature at two to three years and males at about five years. Adult bulls butt heads to establish dominance and breeding rights. The dominant male drives other males out of the herd during the mating season. After a gestation of eight months, females give birth to a single calf weighing 15-25 pounds (7-11 kg). Newborn calves can stand within an hour. They nurse on their mother’s rich milk for up to a year but begin grazing when they are only a week old. Musk oxen live about 15 years in the wild and up to 24 years in captivity.|
Musk Ox Maneuvers
|Conservation Connection||IUCN Status: Lower Risk-Least Concern.
Musk oxen were on the verge of extinction in the late 19th century due to the introduction of rifles and unregulated hunting. In 1917 the musk ox became a protected animal in Greenland and in 1926 Canada granted full protection to its herds. Musk oxen were reintroduced into Alaska in the 1930’s and have been reintroduced into Russia and Scandinavia. Musk oxen are thriving now with population estimates of 66,000- 85,000 worldwide. Nearly 3,000 animals live in Alaska.