Ice-Age Survivors

A muskox lays on the tundra in the sunset
Muskox lounging on the tundra

NPS Photo

Muskox (Ovibos Moschatus)

The survival story of muskox could not have been penned without the aid of modern men. Muskox are believed to have migrated into North America anywhere from 200,000 to 90,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch. These mammals survived in the tundra until nearly 100 years ago when they quietly slipped into extinction from northern Alaska, only to be reintroduced in the 1970s.

Known to Alaskan Inupiat Eskimos as "omingmak" (the bearded one), muskox are well insulated with a wool known as "qiviut," which is hidden under their dark, shaggy coats. The main diet of the roaming muskox consists of dried sedges and grasses.

Muskox are a part of the Alaskan subsistence lifestyle and locals still use their hides and qiviut for making yarn and eat their meat.

Muskox are characterized by their short legs, shaggy coats, bison-like appearance, and their parted, curving horns. Their main predators are wolves and humans and they are known for their defensive strategy of forming a ring against attackers.

Three caribou walk downhill on the green grassy tundra
Caribou shedding its velvet

NPS Photo

Caribou (Rangifer Tarandus)

Caribou originated 65-2 million years ago in South America and are one of the few surviving ice-age animals in the arctic. Their ancient antlers can be found in the sediment of the Pleistocene time, swirled in with the remains of other prehistoric life.

Caribou are often compared to reindeer, but natively populated Alaska long before reindeer were introduced.

Since the caribou lead a nomadic lifestyle, the typical diet of these ice-age survivors ranges from easily grazed grasses and low shrubs in the summer to lichen during the harsh winters - a preference that ultimately helped with their survival.

Caribou look similar to elk or medium-sized deer, but their other characteristics consist of long legs, and lean bodies. Their main predators are humans and wolves.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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