photo by Tim Bowman, US Fish and Wildlife Service, License: Public Domain
image credit - Tim Bowman, US Fish and Wildlife Service; license : public domain



Musk oxen are large animals with long fur coats. Both the males and females have horns. A musk oxen's coat keeps it snug and warm. For winter they grow thick undercoats of soft brown fleece, and thick overcoats of shaggy, long straight hair that hangs down to the ground. In May they shed large amounts of fur. Inuit use the soft underwool called "quiviut" for weaving shawls, sweaters, gloves, hats, scarves and other items.

musk ox photo by J.Giannetta, Calgary Zoo June 2009
image credit : J.Giannetta

photo : Jo Keller, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license : Public Domain
image credit: Jo Keller, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license: public domain

Musk oxen gather in groups of 10 to 20 . They snort when annoyed. When they try to run away from enemies the musk oxen get tired and overheated. If the musk oxen sense danger they form a defensive circle around their young and face their enemies. They may even charge and try to gore the enemy with their horns. The arctic wolf is their main enemy.


Musk oxen feed on grasses, lichens and willows. The herd keeps moving while they are eating. Their hooves spread out allowing the muskoxen to walk on snow without sinking too deep. The sharp hooves help them to get at the grasses that are buried under the snow.


The cows have one calf every two years . A newborn calf has a thick curly coat, but it can die from the freezing cold. It huddles under the mother's long coat to keep warm.


In the early 1900s the musk oxen were overhunted and almost disappeared. They were easy to kill when they formed a circle. Musk oxen were hunted for their meat and the hides were sold . In 1917 the Canadian government passed a law against killing the musk ox.

In Canada more than 85,000 musk oxen live on the mainland and Arctic islands of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Small herds live in northern Yukon.

Musk oxen are also found in Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia.

The musk ox gives off a "musky smell" when excited.

The family: males - bulls; females - cows; babies - calves

The musk oxen's amazing coat helps it survive in high winds,
blowing snow and temperatures of -40C.
photo by Jerry L. Hout, US Fish and Wildlife Service, License: Public Domain
image credit - Jerry L. Hout, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license : public domain

*** more PHOTOS of the musk ox ***


Web Pages for Students

J.Giannetta (
2000 (updated August 2011)

information - Canadian Wildlife Service - Hinterland Who's Who - Muskox
photos - US Fish & Wildlife Service - National Digital Library