Musk Oxen

By: Ben Brichta and Nate Singham

Musk oxen look like an animal from the ice age. With their squat position and shaggy skin, Musk oxen look like a relic from the Ice Age. The male musk ox weighs about 600 pounds. The female musk ox weighs about 400 pounds. Musk oxen resemble bison but they are smaller and have very long coats. Both male and female musk oxen have very large heads capped with cool curving horns. The brown hair is the longest hair of any American animal. It can grow 3-6 ft. long. The 6 feet long hair is on the neck, chest and the behind areas. The musk oxen hooves are very sharp and expand to give them good traction.

They live in Canada, Greenland, the Polar Regions, Alaska and Norway. The musk ox habitat is the tundra and hilly areas. The musk ox lives where it is night for 4 months of the year and the temperature goes down to 65 degrees below zero. Musk oxen have used the same areas along the Niguanak-okerokik-sadlerochit angun, and Tamayarik-Katakturuk River drainages for several years with approximately 80, 160, 230 animals using these drainages, respectively.

Musk oxen are vegetarians and eat plants and hay. During the winter, the musk oxen use their horns to break through the ice to get to the grass. Sometimes this kills the musk oxen because they smash their horns back into their heads.

Summer is the time when the male musk oxen battle for possession of the herd. As a part of a typical fight, each male marks the ground with a smelly liquid from a gland. They go away from eating areas to fight. They start 50 feet apart and ram into each other. The sparring can be dramatic and frightening because they crash head on with skulls and horns. The bull that wins gets to be in control of the herd. Musk oxen live in groups of 10 to 30. The group usually includes a bull that is a leader of the group, several junior bulls and cows with their calves.

The musk oxen have one baby per birth. The population varies seasonally, with the smallest herds occurring during the breeding season. The musk oxen are highly social animals, usually in mixed-sex herds. During the breeding season, which is in August and September, musk oxen put out a musky scent from their facial glands. The musk ox is named for this musk.

There are at least 30 baby musk oxen in a pack. The juniors graze soon after birth, although they are also feed on milk for the first year or so.

Musk oxen were plentiful in the Arctic before whaling ships came to the North. The animals lived in many regions throughout the tundra and their only serious predator was the wolf. However, when guns were introduced by whalers and trappers, hunting increased until the musk oxen were close to extinction. In 1969 and 1970 musk oxen were introduced to a refuge area. Before that they were only found in Arctic Alaska. In the recent years musk oxen numbers increased and appear to have stabilized. The population continues to expand to the east and west. At least 150 musk oxen now live in North Yukon territories and appear annually between the Cauming River and Prudhoe Bay and even onto the south side of Brook Range.

The musk oxen's natural enemies are the polar bear and the Arctic wolf. When a musk ox dies all the musk oxen in the pack surround him and protect it from other predators so they won't eat it. When attacked by a wolf pack, a herd forms a defensive circle with the adult males facing outward and the little ones facing inward.

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