The musk ox is a huge animal living in the Arctic regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. These animals get their name because they look like oxen and during mating season, the males produce a strong smell called musk. Their fur consists of short, soft inner hairs protected by the long outer hairs which grow up to 2 feet (60 cm)!
Some Eskimos call these animals “itomingmak,” meaning “animal with skin like the beard,” referring to these long hairs. Both male and female musk oxen have horns on their heads, but the males have larger ones that can be up to 2 feet (60 cm) long. The males use theirs to fight other males during mating season. The horns meet on top of the skull to form a large bony plate called a boss. Musk oxen use the “safety in numbers” technique, travelling in groups of twenty to thirty. When these animals are threatened by polar bears, wolves, and other animals which could attack their young, the adults form a large circle with their horns pointing outward, keeping the vulnerable young ones in the middle. While this works for repelling animals, it makes them an easy target for hunters with guns. Occasionally a larger member of the group will break away from the circle and charge at the intruder. Males grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder with the females being slightly smaller. The males are 7.5 feet (2.3 m) from the nose to the base of the tail with the females smaller again. Their weight has a huge range of 400 to 900 pounds (180 to 410 kg). Because they cannot dig through deep snow very easily, musk oxen are restricted to eating grasses, moss, lichen, and other plant-like substances that they find in shallow snow.
In the 1920’s, musk oxen were extinct in the state of Alaska, but in 1930, 34 musk oxen were captured in Greenland and transported to Alaska. Thirty-eight years later, that herd, which had grown to around 750 individuals, was split up and transported to different parts of Alaska. The Alaskan population of musk oxen continued to grow until in the year 2000, there were almost 4,000 musk oxen in Alaska. Now that’s an amazing comeback!
Mating season for musk oxen is from July to September, during which the males fight for the privilege to mate. These fights consist of charging at high speeds and hitting each other head on with extreme force. (Don’t try this at home!) The males often roar while they charge, and this sound, combined with the clashing of horns, makes a racket that can be heard up to a mile away! After they mate, the female is pregnant for around eight months, after which she gives birth to one or two calves. When they are born, these babies are 22 to 31 pounds (10-14 kg), but when they are a year old, they are a huge 150 to 235 pounds (68-106 kg)! These calves are ready to keep up with the moving herd within a few hours. The females give birth around every two years from age three to when they die at around 24 years.
Don’t forget to check out the activity sheet under sources and guess what the animal below is!
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- coloring/activity sheet
- Musk ox: public domain
- Musk ox range: Wikipedia user-Gringer
- Mystery animal: Wikipedia user-Danleo