October 22, 2011

Wildlife Wonders of Alaska - Musk Ox

The musk ox is an ancient animal that is unfamiliar to most people. We got to see these incredible creatures at the Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks and also the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. They hail from the Pleistocene period, when they walked the earth with the wooly mammoth, saber-toothed cat, and giant ground sloth. Numbering about 150,000 worldwide, the largest population of musk ox can now be found in Canada. They became extinct in Alaska by the late 1800s and were reintroduced in the 1930s from wild herds in Greenland. Musk ox currently number about 3000 in Alaska. 

adult male musk ox at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

An adult male stands about six feet at the shoulder and weighs up to 1000 pounds. Despite their name, they are not oxen and do not have musk glands. The Inuit peoples of the far north call them Oomingmak, meaning “one with skin like a beard”. Based on appearance, it is frequently assumed that they are a close relative of the bison, buffalo, or yak. But they are actually more closely related to sheep and goats. 

juvenile musk ox 
taking a mid-day nap at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

These animals have adapted to frigid temperatures with a layer of downy underwool called qiviut (pronounced kiv-ee-ute). The fibers are extremely fine, soft, and warm, thus protecting the musk ox in temperatures less than minus 40 degrees. The qivuit is shed each spring to keep the animals cool in the summer and collected to support a thriving cottage industry. Thanks to a cooperative of native Alaskan knitters, you can buy hand knit products made from 100% qivuit. The items are pricey, but take into consideration the rarity of the raw material, its superior warmth characteristics, and crafting by skilled artisans. Qiviut is eight times warmer than wool, incredibly soft, light in weight, and easy to clean. You might want to consider adding a qivuit clothing article to your Christmas wish list!


  1. Simply amazing creatures. And I bet the clothes made from the qivuit is very warm!

  2. That first picture gave me a urge to brush that beautiful fur smooth! Great pictures!

  3. I'm betting that a sweater made from the qivuit would be wonderful.
    They are some amazing creatures but that firs one needs to make an appointment with a hairdresser...lol

  4. I'd love some sox, I love warm feet. wonderful creatures.

  5. They really do look prehistoric! Very interesting about their underwool! How's your hand doing! I hope you're healing well! ♥

  6. Awesome critter!

    How are you doing this week my friend?

  7. I Might if I could pronounce it...Hahahaaa....Goodness he's a Big Boy!! Great shots!

  8. I don't need anything made of qivuit eight times warmer than wool in South Carolina, but that is fascinating! Very interesting that they're more closely related to sheep and goats than to bison or buffalo. Can't tell it by their looks! Mesmerizing photos as usual.


Marty, here! Donna loves comments, and I faithfully pass them on to her. Thank you so much for visiting!