The muskox is an ancient herbivore with an ancestry that can be traced back 90,000 years in North America. As my grandfather used to say, "thats older than dirt!" lol
During the last ice age, muskoxen roamed the ice-free Beringian steppes with the long extinct wooly mammoth, woolly rhino, and mastodon. Today’s tundra muskox, number between 100,000 and 150,000 worldwide. Although it resembles a bison, the muskox is more closely related to sheep and goats. Its closest relative in North America is, in fact, the mountain goat.
The majority of the worldwide population of muskoxen lives in wild herds in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Northern Quebec up by the Hudson Strait.
Muskoxen are herd animals and form tight family bonds. Muskox herds vary in size, partly depending on the season. They tend to be larger in winter, numbering up to 50 animals, when sites with good forage are harder to find, and smaller during the rut, when the bulls compete with each other for access to cows.
When a member of the herd is threatened, the adults may form a ring, protecting the young and weak. If the herd is small, they may form a line abreast with the vulnerable herd members behind the line. A muskox bull, in particular, will charge anything it perceives as a threat, but issues a warning first by rubbing the scent gland near it's eye against the ground or it's foreleg.
As one of its adaptations to life in the cold, the muskox has fine under-layer of fur called qiviut. Qiviut is 8 times warmer than sheep wool and finer than cashmere. It makes a high quality and expensive yarn.
Musk Oxen will reach lengths between 6 and 7.5 feet and have a shoulder height between 4 and 5 feet. Their weight can vary from 400 to 900 pounds.
Males will grow an additional "boss" across the horns that a female doesn't have. Why? Im not sure, but if you've ever seen two 900lb males charging at each other at 35MPH, then exploding in a collision that rivals a car accident, well, Im sure that has something to do with it.
These collisions generally happen in the Rut when males have hormone overload. The rut or 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 or pregnancy period will then last approximately 8 months and the female will give birth to one calf in the spring.
Watch a video here from Animal Planet to see male displays during the rut.
If youre a wildlife photographer, and that doesnt get your blood pumping, I dont know what will... LOL
If you want to go on a photography safari to see the Musk Ox, I am planning a photo workshop to photograph the Musk Ox in the fall when the Musk Oxen are in the rut in northern Canada.
Email me and I can get you some more details. Click here to contact me