What’s a Muskox? Check out these pre-historic animals that roam in the far north

Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) are native to Alaska though the entire Alaskan population was wiped out


as a result of hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They were re-introduced to Alaska in the mid 1930’s from populations in Greenland. Their name is derived from the musky smell omitted by males to attract female breeding partners. Breeding generally takes place between July and October. Bull muskox stand 5′ tall at the shoulder and average 600-800lbs in weight while females stand 4′ at the shoulder and weigh in at 400-500lbs. Muskox are bovids and like common cattle have a chambered digestive system called a rumen.  When I was a boy I was told cows, for instance,  had a four chambered stomach but it works a bit differently than a human stomach.  The rumen essentially ferments the often carbohydrate rich and protein deficient vegetation consumed by muskox in order to extract the difficult to reach nutrients.

The lone bull in the photo likely left his herd due its old age or was forced out by a dominant male after breeding season .   Lone muskox will sometimes return to herds after breeding or in times of danger. The herd in the video has 4 yearlings among this 20+ herd of muskox. Several females among the herd in the video could very likely have been gestating. The video was recorded August 31, 2011 ~80 miles north of where the above photo was taken on September 3, 2012. It could be that this bull photographed this year was part of the herd I filmed the previous year but that is speculation because not much is actually known about the range of muskox.

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Mike Knoche

31 thoughts on “What’s a Muskox? Check out these pre-historic animals that roam in the far north

    • They really are. It is really great to run across them. While surveying song birds on the Seward Peninsula (where you can see Russia from your house, kinda) I ran into a small herd as I climbed up on a mountain. I startled them and they formed a circle with faces out around their young. Awesome. Then while studying birds on Alaska’s North Slope a helicopter pilot asked if my crew and I wanted to see a herd of muskox.We had no choice. When we got to them he said, “y’wanna see’m circle up?”. I told him no as we down bomb them and he made them circle up. Ah, we all do have different ideas on right and wrong, don’t we?



  1. Norway also have some imported from Greenland (ous exctinkt). They are very popular with photographers. People are advised to never go closer than 200 m, since they can be very dangerous, but I know many go as near as 30 or even 20 m to get their pictures. They are impressive.


    • You’re welcome. I was pretty shocked the first time I encountered them. The University here has a research farm where there is a herd of Muskox (and reindeer, not the flying kind). I helped feed them once. One of the females liked me and tried to ru me over. That kind of ended my interest in Muskox husbandry.


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