Q:

What do musk oxen eat?

A:

Musk oxen eat grass, sedges, flowers, roots, moss and lichen during the summer when plants are easily available. In winter, they also browse on more easily obtainable shrubs, woody plants, crowberry, bearberry and willows.

In the summer, musk oxen often feed near water, eating throughout the daylight hours to store up fat for the winter. When harsher winter weather arrives, they leave the river valleys and move to higher ground out of the deep snow. On the hillsides, heavy winds keep much of the snow off the ground. Musk oxen dig through the shallow snow with their hooves to graze on ground plants and nibble on taller shrubs, such the arctic willow. With their heavy coats and abundant fat, they are well adapted to conserving energy when nutrition is sparse during winter.

The musk ox reproductive cycle is tied to their seasonal food habits. Musk oxen typically mate from late June through August. Cows carry their calves for eight to nine months, through the cold of winter. When the calves are born in spring, from April to June, the mothers rely on their fat reserves for lactation. They nurse their offspring for about two months, until the snow melts and the calves are able to more easily forage for plants. After calves begin feeding on plants, they nurse less frequently. By the time winter comes, they have stored up enough fat reserves to be able to survive on their own.

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