Muskox laying on a hill

NPS Photo

Iñupiaq Name: Umiŋmak
Scientific Name: Ovibos moschatus

Muskox are grouped scientifically with sheep and goats. Muskox are native to Alaska, but were extirpated (wiped out) in the early 20th century. In the 1930's, approximately 34 individuals were relocated from Greenland to Alaska, and after a quarantine period, were moved to Nunivak Island. All Muskox in Alaska are descendants from that herd.

Muskox are found throughout the Arctic Circle. In Alaska, they can be found as far south and Nunivak Island and Kipnuk, in Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Noatak National Preserve, and Kobuk Valley National Park. They can also be found farther north near Prudhoe Bay.

Muskox like to live on the tundra where it is wide open.

Life History:
Breeding season begins around August and can go through to October. During this time, referred to as the rut, harems form of 5-15 females and young and one dominant bull. Bulls will protect their harem, or try to overtake one, by battle with other males. They will charge one another and ram heads start at 50 yards or more away and running at full speed (these impacts are equivalent to a car hitting a concrete wall at 17 mph). Bulls are protected by thick horns and 3 inches of bone in the contact area.

Cows that are two years old or more give birth to one calf between April and June. Calves can weigh 22-31lbs at birth. They will grow rapidly over the summer season and will weigh 150-235lbs as yearlings.

During winter months, once mating seasons is over, mixed sex herds reform and intense battles are left for next mating season.

Muskox like to eat a variety of plant material including grasses, sedges, forbs, and woody plants, as well as lichen. They are not well suited to dig through deep snow, so in winter they prefer areas that are windswept or areas that have shallow snow to paw through or use horns to break through crusty snow.

Muskox are preyed upon by mostly wolves, grizzly bears, and humans. Muskox tend not to run from predators, but instead will use formations to protect their young and themselves. If there is a single threat, they will form a defensive line, but if there are multiple threats, they will form a circle, with horns out and calves in the middle, and face the predators.

Iñupiaq Cultural Use:
Unchanged since the ice age, their soft undercoat, called qiviut, is collected and used for insulating clothing, or used to make clothing. They are also a food source for local hunters.

Last updated: September 19, 2023

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