Musk ox

The musk ox is an incredible animal that has a very specific appearance, thanks to which zoologists have identified it as a separate detachment. The name is due to the external signs of both sheep and bulls. The physique and structure of internal organs and systems was adopted by the animal from bulls, and the type of behavior and some features from sheep. It is found in many literary sources under the name musk ox.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Musk Ox

Photo: Musk Ox

The musk ox belongs to the chordates, classified as mammals, artiodactyl order. It is a representative of the family of bovids, the genus and species of musk oxen. The name of the animal, translated from ancient Latin, means ox-ox. This is due to the inability of scientists to come to a consensus regarding the origin and ancestors of the animal.

Video: Musk Ox

The ancient ancestors of modern musk bulls lived on earth during the Miocene – more than 10 million years ago. The region of their habitat at that time was the mountainous areas of Central Asia. It is not possible to accurately determine and describe the appearance, character and lifestyle of the ancient ancestors due to the lack of a sufficient number of fossils.

About 3.5-4 million years ago, when climatic conditions became more severe, ancient musk oxen descended from the Himalayas and spread across the territory of northern Eurasia and Siberia. During the Pleistocene period, primitive representatives of this species, along with mammoths, bison and rhinos, very densely inhabited Arctic Eurasia.

During the Illinois glaciation, they migrated along the Bering Isthmus to the territory of North America, then to Greenland. The first musk ox in Europe was discovered by an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, Englishman Henry Kelsey.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What a muskox looks like

Photo: What a muskox looks like

The musk ox is distinguished by a very specific appearance, which is shaped by the conditions of its existence. There are practically no bulges on his body, which reduces heat loss. Also a specific feature of the appearance of the animal is a long and very thick coat. Its length reaches about 14-16 centimeters in the back and up to 50-60 centimeters in the sides and abdomen. Outwardly, it seems that he was covered with a chic blanket from above.

Interesting fact: In addition to wool, the musk ox has a thick and very dense undercoat, which warms 7-8 times more intensely than sheep's wool. The coat of the artiodactyl consists of eight types of hair. Thanks to this structure, he is the owner of the warmest wool in the world.

In winter, the fur is especially thick and long. In May, the molt begins, which lasts until mid-July. Animals are distinguished by powerful, well-developed muscles. The musk ox has a rather large head and a shortened neck. Due to the massive, sagging coat, it seems much larger than it actually is. The front, front part of the head is also covered with fur. The ears are triangular in shape and are almost invisible due to the thick coat. The musk ox has massive sickle-shaped horns. They are thickened in the forehead, covering most of it.

Horns can be gray, brown or brown. The tips are always darker than the base. The length of the horns reaches 60-75 centimeters. Both sexes have them, but the females are always shorter and less massive. The limbs of the bulls are short and very powerful. It is noteworthy that the front hooves are more massive than the rear. The limbs are covered with thick and long fur. The tail is short. It is abundantly covered with wool, which is why it is completely invisible.

The growth of the animal at the withers is 1.3-1.5 meters. The body weight of one adult is about 600-750 kilograms. The color scheme is dominated by gray, brown, brown and black colors. Usually the upper part of the body has a lighter tone, the bottom is almost black. There is a light stripe in the region of the spine. The limbs are also covered with light fur.

Where does the musk ox live?

Photo: Musk ox in Russia

Photo: Musk ox in Russia

The historical habitat of animals extended to the Arctic regions of Eurasia. Over time, along the Bering Isthmus, musk oxen migrated to the territory of North America, and even later to Greenland.

Global climate change, in particular warming, caused a decrease in the number of animals and a narrowing of their habitat. The polar basin began to shrink and melt, the amount of snow cover increased, the tundra-steppes turned into swampy areas. To date, the main habitat of the musk ox is in North America, in the area of ​​Greenel land and the land of Pari, as well as the northern regions of Greenland.

Until 1865, inclusive, the musk ox inhabited the northern regions of Alaska, but this territory was completely bred. In 1930, they were again brought there in small numbers, and in 1936 to Nunivak Island. In these places, the musk ox took root perfectly. It was not possible to breed animals in Switzerland, Iceland and Norway.

Breeding bulls in the recent past was also taken up on the territory of Russia. According to approximate estimates of scientists, approximately 7-8 thousand individuals live on the territory of the Taimyr tundra, about 800-900 individuals live on Wrangel Island, as well as in Yakutia and Magadan.

Now you know where the musk ox lives. Let's see what the animal eats.

What does the musk ox eat?

Photo: Animal Musk Ox

Photo: Animal Musk Ox

The musk ox is an artiodactyl, herbivore animal. It managed to adapt and survive perfectly in the climatic conditions of the cold Arctic. In these places, the warm season lasts only a few weeks, then winter comes again, snow storms, winds and severe frosts. During this period, the main source of food is dry vegetation, which animals extract from under a thick layer of snow with their hooves.

The food base of the musk ox:

  • birch, shrub willow;
  • lichens;
  • moss moss;
  • cottongrass;
  • sedge;
  • astragalus and mytnik;
  • arctagrostis and arctophila;
  • partridge grass;
  • foxtail;
  • reed grass;
  • meadow;
  • mushrooms;
  • berries.

With the onset of the warm season, musk oxen come to natural salt licks, where they make up for the lack of minerals and trace elements in the body. In winter, animals get their own food by digging it out from under the snow cover, the thickness of which does not exceed half a meter. If the thickness of the snow cover increases, the musk ox will not be able to get food. In the cold season, when the main source of food is dry, frozen vegetation, musk oxen spend most of their time digesting it.

With the onset of heat, they try to stay near river valleys, where the richest and most diverse vegetation. During the warm season, they manage to accumulate enough fat mass. By the onset of cold weather, it is about 30% of body weight.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Siberian Musk Ox

Photo: Siberian Musk Ox

The musk ox is an animal that is perfectly adapted to survive in cold, harsh climates. Often they can lead a nomadic lifestyle, choosing an area where there is an opportunity to feed themselves. In winter, they often migrate to the mountains, as strong winds sweep away the snow cover from their peaks. With the onset of spring, they return to the valleys and flat areas of the tundra.

The way of life and behavior of the musk ox often resembles sheep. They create small groups, the number of which reaches from 4 to 10 individuals in summer, up to 15-20 in winter. In the spring, males often gather in separate groups, or lead an isolated solitary lifestyle. These individuals account for approximately 8-10% of the total number of animals.

Each group has its own habitat and grazing area. In the warm season, it reaches 200 square kilometers, in the summer it is reduced to 50. Each group has a leader who guides everyone in the search for a forage base. Most often, this role is performed by the leader or an adult, experienced female. In critical situations, this function is assigned to the herd bull.

Animals move slowly, in some situations they are able to accelerate the pace to 35-45 km/h. They are able to travel long distances in search of food. In the warm season, feeding alternates with rest during the day. With the onset of winter, most of the time they rest, digesting the vegetation that they extract under the thickness of the snow cover. The musk ox is not at all afraid of strong winds and great frosts. When the storms come, they lie with their backs to the wind. Of particular danger to them are high snows, which are covered with infusion.

He navigates in space with the help of a well-developed vision and sense of smell, which allows him to feel the approach of the enemy and find food under a layer of snow. The average life expectancy of a musk ox is 11-14 years, but with enough food, this period almost doubles.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Musk ox in nature

Photo: Musk ox in nature

The breeding season lasts from mid-July to late October. All sexually mature females ready for mating are covered by one male, who is the leader of the herd. In those groups where the number of heads is too high, the successors of the genus are several more subdominant males. There is practically no fight for the attention of females.

Sometimes males show strength in front of each other. This is manifested in tilting the head, growling, butting, hitting the hooves on the ground. If the opponent is not ready to concede, sometimes there are fights. Animals move away from each other for fifty meters, and, running up, collide with their foreheads. This continues until the stronger one defeats the weaker one. Often males even die on the battlefield.

After mating, pregnancy occurs, which lasts 8-9 months. As a result, two cubs are born, very rarely. The body weight of newborns is about 7-8 kilograms. A few hours after birth, babies are ready to follow their mother.

Mother's milk is quite high-calorie, has a high percentage of fat. Because of this, newborn cubs grow quickly and gain weight. By two months, they are already gaining about 40 kilograms, and by four they have doubled their body weight.

Breastfeeding lasts at least four months, sometimes dragging on for up to a year. A week after birth, the baby begins to taste mosses and herbs. In a month, it already actively feeds on pasture vegetation in addition to mother's milk.

A newborn is under mother's care for up to a year. Herd cubs always unite in groups for joint games. Males always predominate among newborns.

Natural enemies of musk oxen

Photo: What a musk ox looks like

Photo: What a musk ox looks like

Musk oxen from nature endowed with powerful and strong horns, very developed muscles. They are quite united, which often allows them to fight back against their enemies. Despite this, they have quite a few enemies in their natural habitat.

Natural enemies of musk oxen:

  • wolves;
  • brown and white bears;
  • wolverines.

Another very dangerous enemy is man. He often preys on the animal for its horns and fur. Connoisseurs of such rare trophies value them very highly and offer big money. A keen sense of smell and very sharply developed vision often make it possible to determine the approach of danger from afar. In such a situation, the musk oxen accelerate the pace of movement, go to a gallop, then take to flight. In some situations, they are able to reach speeds of more than 40 km/h.

If this tactic does not bring the desired effect, adults form a dense ring, in the center of which young cubs. Reflecting the attack of a predator, an adult individual again returns to its place in the circle. This defense tactic allows you to defend yourself quite effectively against natural enemies, but it does not help, but on the contrary, it makes the task of hunters easier, who do not even have to chase their prey.

Population and species status

Photo: Animal Musk Ox

Photo: Musk ox animal

Today, the musk ox has the status of “Least Endangered”. However, this species is still under control in the Arctic. According to the World Organization for the Protection of Animals, its total number is 136-148 thousand heads. In Alaska, as of 2005, there were approximately 3,800 individuals. The population on the territory of Greenland was 9-12 thousand individuals. In Nunavut, there were approximately 47 thousand heads, of which 35 thousand lived on the territory of the Arctic islands.

In the northwest, there were approximately 75.5 thousand individuals. Almost 92% of this population inhabited the territory of the Arctic islands. In some regions, the musk ox exists in the conditions of nature reserves and national parks, where hunting for it is strictly prohibited.

For the musk ox population, the main danger is climate change, poachers, warming and icing of the snow cover, the presence of a large number of grizzly bears and wolves in North America. If the snow is covered with an ice crust, the animals cannot get their own food.

In some regions, musk oxen are hunted for valuable fur, in some they seek to get meat that resembles beef in taste and composition. In some regions, animal fat is also of value, on the basis of which healing ointments are made and used in cosmetology.

The musk ox is a very interesting animal that combines the characteristics of sheep and bulls. It is a resident of cold, arctic regions. Unfortunately, with climate warming, its numbers and habitat are declining, although so far they do not cause any concern.

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