Quick Facts

Scientific name:
Ovibos moschatus
Indigenous name:
umingmak (North Qikiqtaaluk, Inuinnaqtun, Aivilingmiutut, Paallirmiutut, and Inuvialuktun dialects), umimmak (South Qikiqtaaluk, Nunatsiavummiutut), umiŋmak (Nattilingmiutut)
IUCN conservation status:

Least concern (assessed December 21, 2020)

Genome sequenced?
No. of chromosomes:
24 x 2
Size of genome:

Did You Know?

  • Its Inuktitut name “umingmak" translates to "the bearded one".
  • Muskox are the only living member of the Ovibos genus.
  • Muskox are the largest herbivore found on the tundra, which extends from the limits of plant growth on the High Arctic Islands and northern Greenland to the continental mainland.
  • Muskoxen have a high threshold of fat reserves before conceiving, which reflects their conservative breeding strategies (Adamczewski et al. 1992).
  • The name Muskox comes from the “musky” odor that the males release during mating season to attract females.
  • Inupiaq-speaking Eskimos call Muskox omingmak, meaning “the animal with skin like a beard,” detailing the long hair that hangs from their neck to nearly the ground.
  • The muskox's brown underhair, called qiviut, has been called the rarest fiber in the world and is highly valued.
  • Muskox can weigh upwards of 800 lb (~363 kg).
  • Muskox growth is rapid and as yearlings they can weigh 150–235 lb (~68–107 kg).
  • Both male and females have horns.

Life History

Muskox can be found in arctic tundra habitats where they roam in search of food such as moss and roots. In the summer they feed on Arctic flowers and grasses. There are 3 subspecies of Muskoxen; Ovibos moschatus moschatus, Ovibos moschatus niphoecus, and Ovibos moschatus wardi. Muskox are the largest herbivore found on the tundra, their predators include grizzly bears, wolves, and in rare circumstances polar bears. A wild adult muskox can live from 12–20 years in the wild. Muskoxen are ruminants with a four chambered stomach that allows them to digest their arctic diet of grasses and other roughage.

Importance in Indigenous Culture

Muskox hunting has been an important part of many Indigenous cultures for many years. They are an important food source for many Indigenous tribes including the Inuit, Chandalar Kutchi, and the Chipewyan. In order to hunt muskox many tribes would use lances made of bone or bow and arrows while their dogs would hold the remaining herd at bay. The tribes would dry the meat for it to be later consumed along with the bone marrow and ruminant stomach. Various tribes would use multiple parts of the muskox for many uses, the skin was used as a runner to make sleds, sold to traders, used to make robes and caps, bedding and tenting. Muskox horn was used as ladles, leisters for fishing, bows, spoons, and blubber pounders. Their bones had many uses to the Indigenous peoples including; sealing harpoons, tool handles, arrow points, ice chisel points, and fishing harpoons. The rest of the muskox also provided useful tools such as the tail being used as a flyswatter. Muskox symbolizes strength, resilience, and the ability to adapt and endure the harshest environments.

Conservation Issues

Muskox are listed as least concern by the IUCN red list as they have a wide distribution and large populations. They have an estimated population size of around 80,000–120,000 individuals and are stable. However within three generations they have had an 8% decrease in muskox populations from 157,000 individuals. Due to unregulated hunting and harvesting of muskoxen in the 1800s the species became nearly extinct in the arctic areas by 1930. However with heavily regulated hunting muskox populations greatly increased within three generations to now having stable populations.

Role of Genomics

Genomics shows that Muskoxen came from an ancient ungulate species about 12 million years ago. Genome sequencing shows that there is very low genetic variation in muskoxen, meaning that there is very little difference between individuals and can make it harder for the species to adapt to environmental changes.


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