Musk oxen are massive animals that weigh around 900 pounds. They are 6 to 8 feet long and can be up to 6 feet tall. These are social animals that tend to move in groups. They can survive even if the temperature falls to 100 degrees Celsius below zero. No wonder they can live comfortably in the hostile Arctic Tundra. The horns are their primary weapon that are often used in times of threat.
Why the Name Musk Oxen
You might be wondering why the word musk is attached to these oxen. Well, if you stand very near to these animals (which is not easy), the smell of musk will fill your nose. This musk odor emanates from the thick fur that envelops their body. Hence, these large animals are popularly called the musk oxen.
Male or Female Oxen: Which is Longer
Lengthwise, male musk oxen have an edge over female musk oxen. This is because the maximum possible length of females is around 200 cm, whereas most male musk oxen are around 220-250 cm long.
Where do Musk Oxen Live?
They are found in northern Canada, Greenland and the Arctic areas. Musk oxen also live in Alaska on the Tundra and Ellesmere Islands. They change their habitat throughout the year. In the summer season, you will find them around river valleys. In winter, they prefer to go to places where snow is comparatively less.
What is the use of Fur?
They are huge beasts covered with thick layers of fur. The fur coat protects them from the cold winds of the Arctic region. As the fur is cold-resistant, musk oxen can easily survive even in extreme cold conditions. They are well-adapted to survive in harsh climatic conditions. Their fur consists of thick, long hair that almost touches the ground. This outer, dense coat protects the inner layer from the freezing cold. The fur generally has a dark brown color.
What is their Life Span?
These mammals have a short life span. They do not live more than 20-25 years in the wild. Musk oxen often fight with each other to display their dominance. Some of these bulls die early due to injury during fights.
What is the use of Hooves
The musk oxen are equipped with sharp hooves (feet) for digging the snow whenever needed. During winter, the plants often get covered with a thick blanket of snow, due to continuous snowfall. In such circumstances, their hooves come in handy for excavation to hunt for any vegetation buried under the snow. The hooves of musk oxen are helpful to burrow through the snow to look for plants like lichens and mosses. In the summer time, besides plants, they also get to eat grasses and flowers. The harsh environment perennially present in the arctic region has no impact on the musk oxen, thanks to their thick fur that retains heat and keeps the body warm. So, even if the mercury in the Arctic region plunges to -40 degree Celsius, musk oxen can still comfortably survive in the environment.
Who are the Enemies of Musk Oxen?
The enemies of these mammals are polar bears, arctic wolves and arctic fox. Surprisingly, they do not run away from their foes. In order to defend themselves from attackers, they form a circle with their outward horns facing the enemy. This fortress of musk oxen is impossible to break into. A powerful charge by a musk ox is enough to throw the enemy into the air. Although they are huge, even a mosquito bite can cause severe skin infection. As these animals have thick fur all over their body, the only area where mosquitoes can bite, is their nose.
What do Musk Oxen Eat?
Musk oxen eat a variety of plants as they are herbivores. They graze on leafy plants, shrubs, herbs, arctic flowers, moss, grass, sedges, willow leaves, etc. In fact, their diet includes any vegetation that is available. Musk oxen are well-known for their unique style of eating food. You will be surprised to know that they do not chew their food, but simply swallow it just like water.
How Musk Oxen are Beneficial to Humans?
Their fur is commonly used to make knitted items. Woolen clothes made from musk oxen fur are considered to be the warmest. These clothes are lighter and warmer than woolen clothes. Sweaters and scarves made from their fur are extremely durable.
Other Facts about Musk Oxen:
Musk oxen always travel in herds. A herd generally consists of two dozen animals. Whenever they sense a fearsome enemy nearby, they form a protective ring. However, such a defense cannot shield them from human hunters. With the introduction of firearms in the 19th century, musk oxen were hunted indiscriminately, mainly for their hide and meat. They nearly went into extinction, until the Canadian government implemented a law in 1917, according to which hunting the musk oxen was strictly banned. You will be glad to know that due to enforcement of this law, now, over 60,000 musk oxen are living in Canada.
Although musk oxen are related to sheep and goat, they are unique because of their characteristics. They are one of the few animals in the world that can survive in the frozen Tundra.