Muskoxen live in small herds in summer and in larger groups (60 or more) in winter. Herds are loosely organized but a dominance hierarchy is present among bulls, cows and subadults. Synchronized cycles of alternating feeding and rumination keep the constantly moving animals together.
Males may challenge the dominant bull for herd leadership. After exchanging deep, roaring bellows, opponents show the broad bases of their horns and rub the preorbital glands against their forelegs in a ritualized display. They then back up and gallop forward to meet in a series of head-on clashes. Head-to-head scuffling may then determine the winner.
Reproduction and Development
Prolonged courtship begins in late July as bulls assess the females' reproductive state. In Aug, courtship with increasing contact leads to successful mating. Females produce a single calf the following year in Apr-June. Though suckling may continue throughout their first year, calves begin feeding on PLANTS within a few weeks of birth. The playful calves spend most of their time together, returning to the mothers only for suckling, travel or safety.
When confronted by WOLVES or humans, muskoxen line up facing attackers pressed tightly together with calves wedged in between. If surrounded they form a solid ring and may charge out at the enemy. When harassed they stampede, sometimes leaving behind stragglers that are more easily killed by wolves.
Author DAVID R. GRAY
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
A nicley illustrated online feature about muskox biology, harvesting, and products. From the Nunavut Development Corporation.
Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary
An illustrated guide to the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, which straddles the border of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and was established in 1927 to conserve muskox populations. From the Nunavut Parks and Special Places website.
An illustrated natural history of muskox, a large mammal found in Nunavut primarily on the arctic islands in the Baffin and northern Kitikmeot regions. Part of the Government of Nunavut website.
An information page about the management of muskox populations in Northern Canada and Alaska. From the website for the Wildlife Management Advisory Council for the Yukon North Slope.
Muskox in the NWT
An overview of muskox biology, management, and economic importance in the Northwest Territories. From the website for the Northwest Territories.