MUSK-OK. The animal commonly known by this name, though approaching in size the smaller varieties of oxen, is in structure and habits closely allied to the sheep, its affinities being well expressed by the generic name 0 vibos bestowed upon it by De Blainville. The specific name Moschatus, as also the common English appellatives "musk-ox," "musk-buffalo," or " musk-sheep " applied to it by various authors, refer to the musky odour which the animal exhales. This does not appear to be due to the secretion of a special gland, as in the case of the Musk-deer ; but it must be observed that, except as regards the osteology, very little is known of the anatomy of this species.
The Ovibos mosehatus about equals in size the small Welsh and Scotch cattle. The head is large and broad. The horns in the old males have extremely broad bases, meeting in the median line, and covering the brow and whole crown of the head. They are directed at first downwards by the side of the face and then turn upwards and forwards, ending in the same plane as the eye. Their basal halves are of a dull white colour, oval in section and coarsely fibrous ; their middle part smooth, shining, and round ; their tips black. In the females and young males the horns are smaller, and their bases are separated from each other by a space in the middle of the forehead. The ears are small, erect, and pointed, and nearly concealed in the hair. The space between the nostrils and the upper lip is covered with short close hair, as in sheep and goats, without any trace of the bare " muffle " of oxen. The greater part of the animal is covered with long brown hair, thick, matted, and curly on the shoulders, so as to give the appearance of a hump, but elsewhere straight and hanging down, - that of the sides, back, and haunches reaching as far as the middle of the legs and entirely concealing the very short tail. There is also a thick woolly under-fur, shed in the summer. The hair on the lower jaw, throat, and chest is long and straight, and hangs down like a beard or dewlap, though there is no loose fold of skin in this situation as in oxen. The limbs are stout and short, terminating in unsymmetrical hoofs, the external being rounded, the internal pointed, and the sole partially covered with hair.
The Musk-ox is at the present day confined to the most northern parts of North America, where it ranges over the rocky barren grounds between the 60th parallel and the shores of the Arctic Sea. Its southern range is gradually contracting, and it appears that it is no longer met with west of the Mackenzie river, though formerly abundant as far as Eschscholtz Bay. Northwards and eastwards it extends through the Parry Islands and Grinnell Land to north Greenland, reaching on the west coast as far south as Melville Bay ; and it was also met with in abundance by the German polar expedition of 1869-1870 at Sabine Island on the east coast. No trace of it has been found in Spitzbergen or Franz Joseph Land. As proved by the discovery of fossil remains, it ranged during the Pleistocene period over northern Siberia and the plains of Germany and France, its bones occurring very generally in river deposits along with those of the reindeer, mammoth, and woolly rhinoceros. It has also been found in ordinary Pleistocene gravels in several parts of England, as Maidenhead, Bromley, Freshfield near Bath, Barnwood near Gloucester, and also in the lower brick earth of the Thames valley at Crayford, Kent.
It is gregarious in habit, assembling in herds of twenty or thirty head, or, according to Hearne, sometimes eighty or a hundred, in which there are seldom more than two or three full-grown males. They run with considerable speed, notwithstandim,'s the shortness of their legs. Major H. W. Feilden, naturalist to the Arctic Expedition of 1875, says : "No person watching this animal in a state of nature could fail to see how essentially ovine are its actions. When alarmed they gather together like a flock of sheep herded by a collie dog, and the way in which they pack closely together and follow blindly the vacillating leadership of the old ram is unquestionably sheep-like. When thoroughly frightened they take to the hills, ascending precipitous slopes and scaling rocks with great agility." They feed chiefly on grass, but also on moss, lichens, and tender shoots of the willow and pine. The female brings forth one young one in the end of May or beginning of June after a gestation of nine months. According to Sir J. Richardson, " when this animal is fat its flesh is well tasted, and resembles that of the caribou, but has a coarser grain. The flesh of the bulls is highly flavoured, and both bulls and cows when lean smell strongly of musk, their flesh at the same time being very dark and tough, and certainly far inferior to that of any other ruminating animal existing in North America." The carcase of a Musk-ox weighs, exclusive of fat, above 3 cwt. On this subject Major Feilden says : "The cause of the disagreeable odour which frequently taints the flesh of these animals has received no elucidation from my observations. It does not appear to be confined to either sex, or to any particular season of the year ; for a young unweaned animal, killed at its mother's side and transferred within an hour to the stew-pans, was as rank and objectionable as any. The flesh of some of these animals of which I have partaken was dark, tender, and as well flavoured as that of four-year old Southdown mutton " (Zoologist, September 1877).
See Richardson, Fauna Borealt-Americana (1829), and Zoology of H.M.S. Herald (1832); W. Boyd Dawkins, "Oribos moschatus," in BriliM Pleistocene Mammalia, part v. ; Memoirs of the Palmontographical Society (1872).
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