Thursday, May 31, 2007

From Tyrannovibos moschatus to mild-mannered tundra hippie

From the Scholastic entry on muskoxen, An Arctic Survivor:
There are not a lot of animals in the Arctic that would satisfy the musk-ox's appetite, so it has evolved into a plant-eating animal.
Sometimes doing research for articles in Agroborealis reveals little-known factoids like these. I never in my wildest imaginings suspected the muskox's dark evolutionary secret, that it made a conscious choice, long long ago in the Jurassic, that its preferred raw red-meat diet of hapless cute little animals would have to be given up because, well, there just weren't enough of 'em to go around to satisfy the prehistoric muskox's rapacious appetite. Apparently the modern muskox's ancestors decided that it was time to get enlightened (in a self-interested way) and head off to the arctic commune, there to become shaggy longhairs and eat a vegan, nonviolent diet.

But wait, there's more!
In the winter, it is estimated that the long hair keeps these animals a few degrees above the freezing point, no matter how cold the temperature of the air might be.
Yep, muskoxen run around with a core body temperature of around 36-39 degrees in the winter. I bet the researchers at LARS would be interested in THAT little detail.
In fact, one of the reasons the musk-ox maintains some of its mystery is due to the difficulty it experiences in our own environment. There are not a great deal of them in our zoos. Originally, Westerners tried to use the musk-ox as a source of wool. This was a relatively short-lived experiment however, for the animals would die of pneumonia when shaved.
So...I guess the Musk Ox Farm and the Large Animal Research Station and Windy Valley Farm and the last half-century of commercial qiviut production hasn't happened...all them sneezing muskoxen. Too much snot in the qiviut, dead muskoxen all over, ick. No wonder farmers didn't want to shear their muskoxen! (Guess they didn't notice that muskoxen conveniently shed each spring, huh?)

And of course, since we all live in a zoo, it would get pretty messy pretty fast having coughing and sneezing muskoxen (with no handkerchiefs!) to worry about. And think what it did to the zoo visitors' morale, having to see all that in our pens. (Maybe we Alaskans are zoo escapees...wait, now actually, that's pretty close to the truth, looking at the transplants from the Lower 48...)

The things one can discover on the Internet!

1 comment:

Ishmael said...

I read the Scholastic article. I was especially surprised to find out these other little-known facts about the wily musk ox:

- Seeing the folly of an arms race with bison and moose, the musk ox were the first to abandon nuclear weapon development.

- Under all that hair: opposable thumbs!

- Like tigers, it's not just their fur that is striped, so is their skin.

- Two words: prehensile tails.