The Muskox

Muskox in Arctic Tundra, Deadhorse, Alaska, USA, Adobe Stock, by Tom

The Muskox (Ovibos moschatus)

Muskoxen are bovine animals native to the arctic regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. This handsome species is most known for its woolen coat and its natural odor, from which it gets its name. The scent of the muskox is a feature of the species’ mating behaviors in which the bulls secrete their musk to attract a mate.

Muskox in Snow. Adobe Stock, by Fitawoman.

Despite their common name referring to them as oxen, muskox are actually more closely related to sheep and goats than to the oxen members of the family bovidae.

The similarities of the muskoxen and both sheep and ox have led to the muskox being placed in its own genus, ovibos, a name which combines the latin ovis, meaning sheep, and bovis, meaning ox.

Genetically, the closest living relatives of muskoxen are gorals, a group of bovine species native to the central and eastern regions of Asia.

Musk Ox in Norway in Dovrefjell Relaxing in Autumn, Adobe Stock, by Friethjof

Despite their existence across most of the arctic circle, muskoxen are most commonly found in North America. They are speculated to have immigrated from across the Bering Land Bridge that connected the present state of Alaska to modern day Russia some 90,000 to 200,000 years ago.

In appearance, many liken muskoxen to the common North American bison. However, the two massively differ in evolution and features, with bison commonly weighing roughly twice as much as muskoxen. Muskoxen are rarely domesticated, but those that are domesticated are often kept for wool and, more rarely, meat or milk.

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