Looking back at the two years or so of blog writing, we have covered numerous topics. One of my favorite topics has always been the animal ones. And of all those we have covered numerous species. But this month’s Big Game Basic might cover the smelliest animal yet! I mean I’m sure moose don’t smell like roses and if you have ever smelt a gut-shot deer you probably will never forget it. And even our pesky little javelina are like moving trash cans, but this month may just take the stinky cake. And their name says it all, muskox.
Muskox are a large Arctic mammal that are a part of the family Bovidae. Knowing this and looking at these magnificent creatures, one assumes that they are a cow of some kind. When in fact, they are more closely related to goats and sheep! Muskox are the only animals in the genus Ovibus, which means “sheep-ox” in Latin.
They are well known for their distinctive thick coats, large horns, defensive strategies and smell. That is where most of the muskox gets their name. The males emit a powerful odor during the mating/rutting season to attract females. (Hence “musk—ox”). This may sound funny to us, but when you think about it not so much. We as humans will spray ourselves with cologne or perfume to smell nice, and so it kind of all works out. Just don’t expect any “MUSKOX by Calvin Kline” to be hitting your local scent-parlor anytime soon.
Muskox naturally live in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. They have been successfully introduced in smaller populations to Norway, Sweden, Alaska and Siberia. These animals live in extremely cold parts of the world, but have adapted to this lifestyle quite well. Their long and thick coats keep them plenty warm during winter. Also during the colder season muskox will form into groups of a dozen or two for protection and warmth. During the warmer seasons they are usually found in smaller herds.
At first look these animals may look large, clumsy and slow. Muskox are actually capable of reaching speeds of over 35 miles per hour. They are also not nearly as large as they appear, this is due to their large and thick coats. Muskox weigh on average between 400 and 900 pounds. The American bison usually weighs double that.
The history of these animals goes way back and is full of speculation. While the muskox are the only living genus of Ovibus, their ancestors go back millions of years. They are believed to have been around during the Ice Age and lived alongside all of those mega fauna. (I.E. wooly mammoths, stag moose, etc.) But this is all heavily debated. It doesn’t take much thought to picture these large beasts walking around with those other animals.
Typically the predators of muskox are the Arctic wolves. It is hard to mention these animals without the characteristic “circle-protection” coming to mind. The muskox will get into a circle to protect their young who are on the inside of the circle. The muskox face out towards the danger and lunge forward to strike back at any predator with their large, curved horns. Besides wolves only large bears (grizzly or polar) really attempt to take muskox on, and usually they target young or weak members of the herd.
Muskox also put on great displays in order to establish dominance. Males will tear up the ground with their hooves, release scent, make loud noises and ram into each other. They will back up about 60 feet from each other and run full speed until the two collide. Once one gives up, he will become the subordinate male. This subordinate male will be treated like a female until he becomes dominant.
It is still legal to hunt muskox, and many big game hunters wait their lifetime for a chance. The hunting is well regulated due to large harvests being taken in the 19th and 20th century. Other than on a hunting trip, these animals are commonly kept at zoos. They are also ranched in some places. They are prized for their milk, meat and especially their wool. Their wool is warm, soft and average at $60 an ounce for yarn.
While exactly where these animals come from is unknown, but with conservation and education hopefully the muskox will be around for generations to come.
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Other Animals You Might Bump Into