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Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Moschidae
          Genus: Moschus

Moschus moschiferus

      Siberian musk deer


Moschus moschiferus [Linnaeus, 1758].  
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1:66.
Type locality: "Tataria versus Chinam"; restricted to Russia, SW Siberia, Altai Mtns by Heptner et al. (1961)

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 86-100 cm / 2.8-3.3 ft.
Shoulder Height: 52-55 cm / 20.5-21.5 inches.
Tail Length: 4-6 cm / 1.6-2.4 in.
Weight: 11-18 kg / 24-40 lb.

The overall colouration of animals varies from a light yellowish brown to almost black, although a dark brown is most common.  The head is generally lighter.  A pair of whitish stripes extends from the chin down the chest to the belly, while a scattering of lighter spots may be present on the back and sides.  Young are born intensely spotted on their upper body, with adult colouration reached gradually by 1.5 years of age.  The hind legs are much longer and more powerful than the front legs, which causes the back to slope, and is an adaptation to saltatorial (jumping) locomotion.  The hindquarters, which are highly arched, may be 5-10 cm / 2-4 inches higher than the shoulders.  This feature is further emphasized by the small chest and thin neck which is carried low.  The head is elongated and small relative to the body.  The features of the face, however, are oversized.  The eyes are large and the ears are long and rounded, with have a wide range of mobility.  Antlers are not present in this species, however, the sharp upper canines of adult males grow very long (up to 10 cm / 4 inches) and project well below the chin in older individuals (the canines of females are not visible).  The tail is very small and is often hidden in the fur on the rump.  The lateral hooves (dewclaws) are well developed in this species, and are usually seen in the footprints of standing animals.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 6.5 months.
Young per Birth: Often 2, sometimes 1 or 3.
Weaning: At 3-4 months.
Sexual Maturity: 15-17 months.
Life span: 10-14 years, up to 20 years in captivity.

The young are usually born in May and June, after which they are hidden - concealed away from their mother for up to 2 months.  Up to one third of the females in a population will not reproduce in a given year.

Ecology and Behavior

Musk deer are primarily active at night, although during this period they alternately feed and rest.  While foraging, a musk deer may travel 3-7 km per night, generally returning to the same spot (a "lair") every morning.  Well-defined pathways are used, becoming permanent tracks rapidly.  These tracks facilitate movement in winter, when loose snow prevents easy access to other areas.  When chased, musk deer head for rocky terrain, and will try to either reach an inaccessible crag or a shelter.  If neither is available, the animal begins to run in circles.  Although they can run exeptionally fast, musk deer tire after only 200-300 meters.  When running, musk deer may leao like rabbits, with the hind legs landing in front of the front legs.  On level ground, musk deer may jump a distance of up to 5 meters, although 2.5 meters is more common.  The main vocalization is a soft hiss.  Average population density is about 0.6 animals per square kilometer, although under favourable conditions this may be as high as 4-8.5 animals per square kilometer.  Individuals inhabit home ranges between 200 and 300 hectares in size, sticking to the boundaries steadfastly.  The size of the home range decreases markedly during the second half of winter.  Seasonal migrations are minimal if at all present.

Family group: Generally solitary, sometimes small groups (no more than 3 individuals) of a females with her young.
Diet: Lichens (arboreal and terrestrial), grasses, shoots and branches, leaves, coniferous needles and bark.
Main Predators: Lynx, wolverine, yellow-throated marten, rarely wolf, tiger, and bear.


Mountainous taiga (broadleaf and needle forest) throughout the Soviet Union, Korea, northern China, and northern Mongolia.

Range Map (Redrawn from Whitehead, 1993)

Conservation Status

The Siberian musk deer is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN (1996).


Considered to be the most primitive of the deer, the four species of musk deer have sometimes been placed in their own family, Moschidae, as their morphology is half-way between chevrotains and the true deer.  Until fairly recently, all species of musk deer were clumped as subspecies of M. moschiferus.  The musk produced by these deer is highly held for its cosmetic and alleged pharmaceutical properties, and can fetch U.S. $45,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) on the international market.  Although this musk, produced in a gland of the males, can be extracted from live animals, most "musk-gatherers" kill the animals to remove the entire sac, which yields only about 25 grams (1/40 of a kilogram) of the brown waxy substance.  Moskhos (Greek) musk, also moschus (New Latin) musk.  Fero (Latin) I bear, carry, hence moschiferus, a carrier of musk: the male has an abdominal glandular pouch which produces a strongly scented musk.

Literature Cited

Green, M. J. B.  1987.  Some ecological aspects of a Himalayan population of musk deer.  In Biology and Management of the Cervidae.  Edited by C. M. Wemmer.  Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 307-319.

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Heptner, V. G., A. A. Nasimovich, and A. G. Bannikov.  1989.  Siberian Musk deer (Moschus moschiferus).  In Mammals of the Soviet Union.  By Heptner, V. G., A. A. Nasimovich, and A. G. Bannikov.   New York: E.J. Brill.  pp. 101-124.

Whitehead, K. G. 1993. The Whitehead Encyclopedia of Deer. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

Zhiwotschenko, V.  1990.  Musk Deer.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Edited by S. P. Parker. New York: McGraw-Hill. Volume 5, pp. 133-136.

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