With wide hooves, hefty horns, weatherproof undercoats, and water-shedding long hair dangling nearly to the ground, musk oxen can take whatever the tundra has to offer, from frigid temperatures to roaming packs of ravenous wolves.
What They Eat
Musk oxen eat grasses, lichens, and mosses. They also will nibble on willow and pine branches if they are available.
Where They Live
Musk oxen live in the open spaces of the Arctic. They often gather in vegetation-rich river valleys in summer. In winter they move to higher ground to avoid deep snow.
What They Do
Stocky, thick-coated musk oxen roam the blustery North American Arctic tundra in herds of 12 to 24, grazing on plants and lichens.
How They’re Doing
Musk oxen were extirpated from Alaska about a century ago, but have since been reintroduced. They are surviving well with the help of laws that protect them in Canada and Alaska.
- When threatened, musk oxen form a protective line or circle around their young with their horns facing out.
- The Inuit name for the musk ox is oomingmak, meaning bearded one.
- The musk oxen’s soft, warm underfur, called qiviut (pronounced KIV-ee-it), is thought to be the warmest natural fiber. It is highly valued for knitting hats, sweaters, and other cold-weather clothing.
- Musk oxen roamed the earth at the same time as the mammoth and woolly rhinoceros. In colder times they lived far south of their current range, with some even inhabiting the area that is now Kansas.
Musk ox populations declined dramatically about a century ago, and musk oxen disappeared entirely from Alaska. Government protection and reintroduction efforts helped them to rebuild their populations. Today herds are protected in Alaska and Canada. There are an estimated 125,000 musk oxen worldwide.