These whales have a mottled black and white, grey or brownish back, but the rest of the body (mainly its underside) is white. Newborn narwhal calves are pale grey to light brownish, developing the adult darker colouring at about 4 years old.  As they grow older, they will progressively become paler again. The narwhal’s colouring gives researchers an idea about how old an individual is. Some may live up to 100 years, but most probably live to be 60 years of age.

Muskox domestication projects were established at Unalakleet in Alaska and at Fort Chimo, Québec. Now located at Palmer, the Alaskan domesticated herd has resulted in a native industry based on the manufacture of clothing and other woollen items. The muskoxen from the Fort Chimo project have been released and now range freely in northern Quebec.

Gray, D.R. 1986. Standing his ground: How the muskox survives the rigours of an arctic winter. Nature Canada 15(1):19–26.

Muskox in Alaska can be found in northcentral, northeastern, and northwestern Alaska, on Nunivak Island, Nelson Island, the Seward Peninsula, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and in domestic herds across the state. Originally transplanted from populations in East Greenland, these creatures are well-suited and adapted to the harsh arctic climate of the areas in which they are found today.

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Sutton, G.M. 1971. High Arctic. Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Toronto.

For the muskox, the breeding season begins during late summer; mating takes place between August and October. Single calves weighing 22-31 pounds are born between April and June to cows older than two years. Growth is rapid and the animals weigh 150-235 pounds as yearlings.

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The Musk ox can be found in a number of locations including: Arctic, North America, Russia. Find out more about these places and what else lives there.

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Urquhart, D.R. 1982. Muskox: life history and current status of muskoxen in the NWT. Northwest Territories Department of Renewable Resources, Wildlife Service, Yellowknife.

Tener, J.S. 1965. Muskoxen in Canada, a biological and taxonomic review. Monograph Series No. 2. Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa.

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Gray, D.R., and B. Peers. No date. Omingmak, the muskoxz—Le boeuf musqué. National Museum of Natural Sciences, Ottawa.

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Muskox or Muskoxen, are a prehistoric looking animal that thrives in the cold climate of Alaska’s arctic. Know for their famous warm coat, Quviet, is said to have an insulation factor 10 times that of wool. They have changed little since the ice age. They are a herd animal, and in general, are not difficult to approach for photography. The images here are from Alaska’s arctic region in central and western Alaska. Read more about the natural history of muskox.

The preorbital gland secretion of muskoxen has a "light, sweetish, ethereal" odor.[3] Analysis of preorbital gland secretion extract showed the presence of cholesterol (which is nonvolatile), benzaldehyde, a series of straight-chain saturated gamma-lactones ranging from C8H14O2 to C12H22O2 (with C10H18O2 being most abundant), and probably the monounsaturated gamma lactone C12H20O2.[3] The saturated gamma-lactone series has an odor similar to that of the secretion.[3]

Mature bulls are about 5 feet high at the shoulder and weigh 600-800 pounds. Cows are smaller, averaging approximately 4 feet in height and weighing 400-500 pounds.

The arrival of Europeans and guns pushed the muskox to the brink of extinction. Hundreds were shot for food to support the explorers and whalers. Thousands more were killed for their hides by the trappers and hunters of the fur-trading companies.

The odor of dominant rutting males is "strong" and "rank".[3] It derives from the preputial gland and is distributed over the fur of the abdomen via urine. Analysis of extract of washes of the prepuce revealed the presence of benzoic acid and p-cresol, along with a series of straight-chain saturated hydrocarbons from C22H46 to C32H66 (with C24H50 being most abundant).[3]

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Muskoxen have a distinctive defensive behavior: when the herd is threatened, the bulls and cows will face outward to form a stationary ring or semicircle around the calves.[39] The bulls are usually the front line for defense against predators with the cows and juveniles gathering close to them.[15] Bulls determine the defensive formation during rutting, while the cows decide the rest of the year.[37]

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

In modern times, muskoxen were restricted to the Arctic areas of Canada, Greenland, and the United States. The Alaskan population was wiped out in the late 19th or early 20th century. Their depletion has been attributed to excessive hunting, but an adverse change in climate may have contributed.[17][24] However, muskoxen have since been reintroduced to Alaska. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service introduced muskox onto Nunivak Island in 1935 as a means for subsistence living.[25]

The following habitats are found across the Musk ox distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.

Historically, the muskox occurred from Alaska, across northern Canada to Greenland, although the current range is somewhat reduced, and the species was exterminated in some areas during the last century (1) (2) (3) (4) (5). However, the muskox has now been reintroduced to Alaska and parts of Greenland, and populations have also been introduced to Russia, where it occurred until around 2,000 years ago, and to Norway and Svalbard, although on Svalbard it has since died out (1) (2) (4) (8).

All of the muskox pictures are available for purchase as stock photography, or as fine art prints to display in your home or office. The few below have been popular, but there are many more that can be found in the gallery or by doing a msukox photo search.

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Historically, this species declined because of overhunting, but population recovery has taken place following enforcement of hunting regulations.[1] Management in the late 1900s was mostly conservative hunting quotas to foster recovery and recolonization from the historic declines.[1] The current world population of muskoxen is estimated at between 80,000[40] and 125,000,[25] with an estimated 68,788 living on Banks Island.[41]

Muskoxen eat a wide variety of plants, including grasses, sedges, forbs, and woody plants. These creatures are poorly adapted for digging through heavy snow for food, so winter habitat is generally restricted to areas with shallow snow accumulations or areas blown free of snow.

Lent, P.C. 1989. Return of the mighty muskox. Natural History 11:50–59.

The species has also been introduced from Banks Island to the Scandinavian Peninsula, in parts of Sweden, and the Dovre mountain range of Norway between 1947 and 1953. An introduction attempt in Svalbard, however, was unsuccessful.[26] They were also introduced in Iceland around 1930 but did not survive.[27]

Matthiessen, P. 1967. Oomingmak, the expedition to the muskox island on the Bering Sea. Hastings, New York.


Along with the bison and the pronghorn,[10] the muskox was one of a few species of Pleistocene megafauna in North America to survive the Pleistocene/Holocene extinction event and live to the present day.[11] The muskox is thought to have been able to survive the Last glacial period by finding ice-free areas (refugia) away from prehistoric peoples.[9]

A muskox can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph).[22] Their life expectancy is 12–20 years.

At the close of the last ice age, muskoxen were found across northern Europe, Asia, Greenland and North America, including Alaska. By the mid-1800s, muskox had disappeared from Europe and Asia. By the 1920s, muskox had also disappeared from Alaska, with the only remaining animals being found in east Greenland and Arctic Canada. International concern over impending extinction of this animal led to an effort to restore a population in Alaska.

Gray, D.R. 1987. The muskoxen of Polar Bear Pass. National Museum of Natural Sciences/Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, Ontario.

The muskox is a characteristic species of the Arctic tundra. In summer, it tends to use sheltered, moist lowlands, such as river valleys and lakeshores, and in winter moves to higher slopes and plateaus, where high winds prevent the accumulation of deep snow, so making foraging easier (2) (3) (5).

Nunivak Island: Muskox were introduced to Nunivak Island in 1935-36 and the herd grew slowly until the late 1950s, then grew more rapidly. The first hunting season was in 1975, and the herd has since fluctuated between 400 and 750 animals. The management objective is to maintain a minimum population of 500 to 550 animals. About 84 muskox are harvested each year (five year average, 2001-2006).