The musk ox is a genus of musk oxen belonging to the family of bovids. For a long period, scientists could not determine the identity of this representative. Previously, the musk ox was a species of the bovine subfamily, but now it has been assigned to the goat subfamily.
Description of the species
The ancestors of this animal inhabited the territories of Central Asia, in particular, the Himalayas. Due to changing climatic conditions, they moved to the region of Siberia, where they settled the entire North Eurasian region. Then they crossed the Bering Isthmus and ended up in America. After a sharp warming, the number of musk oxen has sharply decreased. All musk bulls of that time also died out, and only reindeer remained.
Many consider the musk ox to be a hybrid animal of a sheep and a cow. However, it is not. Despite the fact that the appearance of this representative is similar to these two animals. Westerners are accustomed to calling the musk ox musk ox, but this name is not associated with a musky secret. Their name comes from the swamp “musked”. The closest related animal of the musk ox is the takin.
The musk ox is a rather large animal, whose growth reaches about one and a half meters, and the weight varies from 240 to 650 kilograms. The musk ox got its characteristic appearance in connection with evolution, when it was necessary to adapt to serious climate changes. Almost the entire body is covered with extremely thick and elongated fur, which performs the function of thermal insulation due to the giviot. Giviot is a dense undercoat that retains heat many times better than sheep wool. The musk ox is a rather stocky animal, which is endowed with a large head with a short neck. Due to the thick woolen cover, it seems larger than its real size. The musk ox also acquired extremely dense muscles. The number of muscles in his body reaches about 20 percent of the total mass.
The front area of the sheepskin is covered with thick short wool. The ears have a pointed shape that are not always visible against the background of the hairline. Limbs are well developed and covered with fur to hooves. A distinctive feature is also the difference in the size of the hooves: the rear are less than the front. The tail of the sheepskin is shortened and hidden under the wool.
There are sickle horns on the head of the Ovcebyk. In males, they are wide and wrinkled at the base of the forehead. As it grows, the horns become thinner and slightly lowered to the eyes. The color of horns is mainly gray, but beige or brown. The color darkens from the base.
The color of the sheepskin coat is mainly brown. The upper area of the body is mainly a dark shade, and the lower one is light. In the center of the ridge is a small light speck. The color of the fur on the legs is more white.
The woolen cover of the sheepskin reaches 15 centimeters in length. The structure of the coat contains about 8 different types of hair.
Sexual dimorphism is quite pronounced. Male and female individuals differ not only in behavior, but also in anatomy. The weight of males reaches about 400 kilograms with growth up to one and a half meters. While females have a maximum height of 1.2 meters and weigh up to 240 kilograms.
The difference between the sexes lies in the appearance of the horns. Males are endowed with more massive and long horns with a length of up to 73 centimeters. Women’s horns are almost half as long as men’s. Also noteworthy is the fact that in the place where the horns grow in females there is white fluff.
Sexual difference is also in the time of puberty. The female becomes fertile at 2 years, and if there is enough food, at 15 months, while males are not earlier than 2.5 3 years of age.
Where does the musk ox live
The modern habitat of musk oxen is concentrated in the regions of North America, as well as in western and eastern Greenland. For some time, animals perfectly existed in the north of Alaska, but stayed there only until 1865, since they were massively exterminated. They were re-bred in 1930.
They tried to artificially breed musk oxen in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. However, this attempt was not successful. Recently, their reacclimatization has been launched in Eurasia. About 8000 of these animals were in the Taimyr tundra.
As a habitat, musk oxen prefer to live in flat and mountainous areas. The territory of their habitat should be at least 200 square kilometers. This area is actively used by nomadic herds in search of food.
Musk ox on Yamal
Musk oxen on Zavyalov Island
The musk ox is an absolutely herbivorous representative that was able to adapt to the scarcity of food reserves in the Arctic. Summer in this region lasts only a couple of weeks. Musk oxen are forced to feed on vegetation located under a large thickness of snow cover.
Plants that make up the diet of musk oxen:
In summer, animals actively scavenge for nutrients by feeding on natural salt licks.
Due to their thick fur, musk ox thrive in cold tundra conditions. The lifestyle of this animal is similar to sheep. They organize small groups of up to 10 individuals in summer and up to 50 individuals in winter. Autumn and summer groups consist predominantly of one sex. Some musk oxen prefer a hermit lifestyle.
During the search for food resources, the selected leader or cow leads the herd. They move slowly, only sometimes accelerating up to 40 kilometers per hour. The animals themselves, despite their large size, are excellent climbers. The nomadic period starts from September and lasts until May.
Musk oxen spend the winter period in hibernation. During this time, they digest all the vegetation that they got from the thickness of the snow. With the onset of an arctic storm, musk oxen turn their backs to the wind. Frosts are not dangerous for these animals. However, a large snow cover can greatly affect the ability to obtain food.
Musk ox fight
The breeding season starts in July and ends in mid-October. Due to fluctuations in climatic conditions, the rut period may shift to autumn time. Sexually mature females organize separate herds, which are then covered by one dominant leader. In small groups, this role can be taken by subdominant bulls. Many males enter the fight for the chosen female. Fights are characterized by the males showing threat to the opponent, in particular by tilting their heads, roaring and butting. Only if no one leaves for a long time, then a serious fight begins. The bulls diverge up to 50 meters and start chasing each other to meet, knocking their foreheads. Some males may die on the field.
After the formation of a couple, the gestation period begins. It lasts about 8.5 months. One, less often two, cub weighing up to 8 kilograms is born. After a couple of hours, the calf that appears begins to follow the female. Little musk oxen feed on their mother’s milk several times a day. Due to the high percentage of fat content in milk, musk oxen can grow extremely fast. By two months of life, they weigh about 40 kilograms. Breastfeeding ends at 4 months. In rare cases, it can take up to a year. At the age of 7 days, the cubs begin to taste mosses and rags. A month later, they eat herbs in parallel with mother’s milk.
The female is next to her offspring throughout the year. In regions where there is enough food supply for animals, offspring appear with an annual frequency.