Scientific name: Ovibos moschatus

Muskox - Ovibos moschatus
Muskox - Ovibos moschatus. Photo © Mark Hamblin / Getty Images.

The muskox (Ovibos moschatus) is a large hoofed mammals that lives north of the tree line on the arctic tundra. The species is native to Canada, Greenland and Alaska. Muskoxen disappeared from Alaska in the late 1800s and were reintroduced again in the 1930s with from animals captured in Greenland. Muskoxen have also been introduced to in Siberia, Norway, Russia and the Svalbard Archipelago.

Muskoxen have a sturdy, bison-like appearance, short legs and long, thick fur.

Although muskoxen appear bison-like, they are significantly smaller than bison which can weigh almost twice as much as muskoxen. Their thick fur gives them an appearance of being heftier than they actually are.

Males and female muskoxen have long curved cream-colored horns with black tips. The horns curl bend down around their head and then curve upward to a sharp tip. Muskoxen have a short tail that is concealed beneath their long fur.

The fur of muskoxen is of two types. Guard hairs are long, dark and shaggy and can grow long enough to touch the ground. Guard hairs form an outer layer of protection against wind, rain and bothersome insects. This outer fur layer is also called a skirth. A second type of fur known as qiviut forms an insulating layer. Qiviut grows in the fall to provide the muskox with warmth throughout the winter. The qiviut is shed in the spring. Short guard hairs cover the back of the muskox and adults also develop a thick mane on their shoulders.

The life expectancy of wild muskoxen is between 12 and 20 years. The severity of the winters in their range is often the cause of death for many young calves and weak adults. The life expectancy for female muskoxen is several years longer than for males.

Muskoxen can run at speeds of up to 25 miles an hour but their fur is such a good insulator that they cannot run for a long period of time due to the threat of overheating.

Muskoxen are usually slow moving animals that migrate short distances within a home range.

Muskoxen breed from late August to September. Muskoxen form harems in which a dominant male tries to mate with all the females of breeding age within the herd. Males compete with one another to establish dominance. Their displays include postures, roars, head swinging and using scent markers. In some instances they also resort to head-butting. Although it looks rather violent, the head-butting only rarely causes serious injury or death.

Females usually give birth to a single calf in April or May. Calves learn to stand soon after they are born (often within their first 45 minutes).

Muskoxen are herbivores that feed on grasses, shrubs and woody vegetation. They also eat moss and lichens.

Muskox inhabit the Arctic tundra. During the summer, muskoxen live in river valleys and other wetlands. In winter, they migrate short distances to higher elevations where there is less snow.

Their present-day range during includes Canada, Greenland and Alaska. The species has been introduced to Siberia, Norway, Russia and the Svalbard Archipelago. During the Pleistocene, muskoxen were more widespread than they are today.

Fossil evidence shows they were present in Greenland and Russia and populations later spread into North America. The North American population then became isolated and the species disappeared from everywhere except the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and the United States.

The closest living relatives to muskoxen are sheep and goats. The ancestors of present-day muskoxen migrated from Siberia to North America across a land bridge between 200,000 and 90,000 years ago. Like bison and pronghorn, muskoxen were among the few species of Pleistocene megafauna to survive the extinction event that occurred between the Pleistocene and Holocene.

Size and Weight:

About 300 kilograms and 250 cm long


Animals > Chordates > Mammals > Even-Toed Hoofed Mammals > Bovids > Muskox