Mountain goat

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Mountain goat
Mountain Goat, Enchantments Basin.jpg
Mountain goat in the Cascades
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Caprinae
Genus: Oreamnos
O. americanus
Binomial name
Oreamnos americanus
(Blainville, 1816)
Oreamnos americanus distribution.svg
  • Mazama dorsata Rafinesque, 1817
  • R[upicapra]. americanus de Blainville, 1816

The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), also known as the Rocky Mountain goat, is a hoofed mammal endemic to mountainous areas of western North America. A subalpine to alpine species, it is a sure-footed climber commonly seen on cliffs and ice.


Despite its vernacular name and both genera being in the same subfamily (Caprinae), the mountain goat is not a member of Capra , the genus that includes all other goats, such as the wild goat (Capra aegagrus), from which the domestic goat is derived. Instead, it is more closely allied with the serows (Capricornis), gorals (Naemorhaedus), and chamois (Rupicapra).

Classification and evolution

The mountain goat is an even-toed ungulate of the order Artiodactyla and the family Bovidae that includes antelopes, gazelles, and cattle. It belongs to the subfamily Caprinae, along with true goats, wild sheep, the chamois, the muskox and other species. The takins of the Himalayan region, while not a sister lineage of the mountain goat, are nonetheless very closely related and almost coeval to the mountain goat; they evolved in parallel from an ancestral goat. Other members of this group are the bharal, the true goats, and the Himalayan tahr. The sheep lineage is also very closely related, while the muskox lineage is somewhat more distant. The mountain goats probably diverged from their relatives in the late Tortonian, some 7.5 to 8 million years ago.[ citation needed ]

Given that all major caprine lineages emerged in the Late Miocene and contain at least one but usually several species from the eastern Himalayan region, their most likely place of origin is between today's Tibet and Mongolia or nearby. The mountain goat's ancestors thus probably crossed the Bering Strait after they split from their relatives, presumably before the Wisconsinian glaciation. No Pliocene mountain goats have been identified yet; the known fossil record is fairly recent, entirely from North America, and barely differs from the living animals. In the Pleistocene, the small prehistoric mountain goat Oreamnos harringtoni lived in the southern Rocky Mountains. Ancient DNA studies suggest that this was the sister species of the living mountain goat, not its ancestor; consequently, the living species would also date back to the Pleistocene at least. [2] [3]

The mountain goat is the only living species in the genus Oreamnos . The name Oreamnos is derived from the Greek term oros (stem ore-) "mountain" (or, alternatively, oreas "mountain nymph") and the word amnos "lamb".

General appearance and characteristics

Mountain goat on Mount Massive, Colorado, United States Mountain Goat Mount Massive.JPG
Mountain goat on Mount Massive, Colorado, United States

Both male and female mountain goats have beards, short tails, and long black horns, 15–28 cm (5.9–11 in) in length, which contain yearly growth rings. They are protected from the elements by their woolly white double coats. The fine, dense wool of their undercoats is covered by an outer layer of longer, hollow hairs. Mountain goats molt in spring by rubbing against rocks and trees, with the adult billies shedding their extra wool first and the pregnant nannies shedding last. Their coats help them to withstand winter temperatures as low as −46 °C (−51 °F) and winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph).

Close-up of head Flickr - Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife - 023 mtn goat indian rock paustian odfw.jpg
Close-up of head

A male goat stands about 1 m (3.3 ft) at the shoulder to the waist and can weigh considerably more than the female (around 30% more in some cases). Male goats also have longer horns and longer beards than females. Mountain goats can weigh between 45 and 140 kg (99 and 310 lb), and billies will often weigh less than 82 kg (180 lb). The head-and-body length can range from 120–179 cm (47–70 in), with a small tail adding 10–20 cm (3.9–7.9 in). [4] [5] [6]

The mountain goat's feet are well-suited for climbing steep, rocky slopes with pitches exceeding 60°, with inner pads that provide traction and cloven hooves that can spread apart. The tips of their feet have sharp dewclaws that keep them from slipping. They have powerful shoulder and neck muscles that help propel them up steep slopes. [7] Based on a field recording in the Rocky Mountains of Canada of a mountain goat climbing a 45-degree slope, researchers were able to measure the goat's whole body movement as it climbed. Researchers observed that when the goat propelled itself forward, it extended its back legs and the front legs were tucked close up to its chest during its first phase. During the second phase, the goat raised its back legs near to its chest, while the front leg's humerus stayed locked in a persistent location relative to the goat's chest, therefore allowing the elbow to be detained in close proximity to the whole body's center of balance. Extension of the elbow and carpal joints resulted in a vertical translation of the center of mass up the mountain slope. [8]

Range and habitat

The mountain goat inhabits the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Range and other mountain regions of the Western Cordillera of North America, from Washington, Idaho and Montana through British Columbia and Alberta, into the southern Yukon and southeastern Alaska. Its northernmost range is said to be along the northern fringe of the Chugach Mountains in southcentral Alaska. Introduced populations can also be found in such areas as Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, South Dakota, and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.

Mountain goats are the largest mammals found in their high-altitude habitats, which can exceed elevations of 13,000 ft (4,000 m). They sometimes descend to sea level in coastal areas although they are primarily an alpine and subalpine species. The animals usually stay above the tree line throughout the year but they will migrate seasonally to higher or lower elevations within that range. Winter migrations to low-elevation mineral licks often take them several kilometers through forested areas. [9]

Movement patterns

In the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier National Park, near the southwestern limit of their distribution Oreamnos americanus 21073.JPG
In the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier National Park, near the southwestern limit of their distribution

Daily movements by individual mountain goats are primarily confined to areas on the same mountain face, drainage basin, or alpine opening. Daily movements reflect an individual's needs for foraging, resting, thermoregulation and security from predators or disturbance. Seasonal movements primarily reflect nutritional needs (such as movements to and from mineral licks/salt lick), reproductive needs (in other words, movement of pre-parturient females to "kidding" areas; movement to rutting areas), and climatic influences (including movement to areas in response to foraging conditions). In general, seasonal movements are likely to exhibit a strong elevational component, whereby lower, forested elevations are used during the spring-summer (security cover effects) to access lower elevation mineral licks, and during winter (thermal cover effects) to access forage. The farthest movements are expected to be by dispersing mountain goats. Such movements are likely to involve mountain goats crossing forested valleys as they move between mountain blocks.


Young mountain goat licking handrail for salt Mountain goat - artificial salt lick.jpg
Young mountain goat licking handrail for salt

Mountain goats are herbivores and spend most of their time grazing. Their diets include grasses, herbs, sedges, ferns, mosses, lichens, and twigs and leaves from the low-growing shrubs and conifers of their high-altitude habitat.

A mountain goat grazing at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota Mountain goat at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.jpg
A mountain goat grazing at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

In captivity, the mountain goat's diet can also include grain, alfalfa, fruits, vegetables and grass.

Lifecycle and mating

In the wild, mountain goats usually live 12 to 15 years, with their lifespans limited by the wearing down of their teeth. In zoos, however, they can live for 16 to 20 years.

Mountain goat kid at Cawridge, Alberta Mountain goat kid.jpg
Mountain goat kid at Cawridge, Alberta

Mountain goats reach sexual maturity at about 30 months. [10] Nannies in a herd undergo synchronized estrus in late October through early December, at which time females and males participate in a mating ritual. Mature billies stare at nannies for long periods, dig rutting pits, and fight each other in showy (though occasionally dangerous) scuffles. Nannies often ignore young billies, who try to participate but are discounted in favor of older partners. Both females and males usually mate with multiple individuals during breeding season, although some billies try to keep other males away from certain nannies. After the breeding season is over, females and males move away from each other. Nannies form loose-knit nursery groups of up to 50 animals. The adult billies leave, often alone or with two-three other billies.

Mountain goat with kid in Glacier National Park Wherever you go I will go.JPG
Mountain goat with kid in Glacier National Park

Kids are born in the spring (late May or early June) after a six-month gestation period. Nannies give birth, usually to a single offspring, after moving to an isolated ledge; post partum, they lick the kid dry and ingest the placenta. Kids weigh a little over 3 kg (6.6 lb) at birth and begin to run and climb (or attempt to do so) within hours. Although lactation is mostly finished at one month, kids follow their mothers closely for the first year of life (or until the nanny gives birth again, if this does not occur the next breeding season); nannies protect their young by leading them out of danger, standing over them when faced by predators, and positioning themselves below their kids on steep slopes to stop freefalls.

Aggressive behavior

Nannies can be very competitive and protective of their space and food sources. They fight with one another for dominance in conflicts that can ultimately include all the nannies in the herd. In these battles, nannies circle each other with their heads lowered, displaying their horns. These conflicts can occasionally lead to injury or death, but are usually harmless. To avoid fighting, an animal may show a posture of nonaggression by stretching low to the ground.

In regions below the tree line, nannies use their fighting abilities to protect themselves and their offspring from predators. Predators, including wolves, wolverines, lynxes, and bears, attack goats of most ages given the opportunity. The mountain lion is perhaps the primary predator, being powerful enough to overwhelm the largest adults and uniquely nimble enough to navigate the rocky ecosystem of the goats. Though their size protects them from most potential predators in higher altitudes, nannies must sometimes defend their young from both bald and golden eagles, [11] which can be a predatory threat to kids. [5] Nannies have even been observed trying to dominate the more passive, but often heavier bighorn sheep that share some of their territory. In 2021, a recorded case in Yoho National Park, British Columbia of a mountain goat goring a grizzly bear to death was recorded. [12]

Mountain goats can occasionally be aggressive towards humans, with at least one reported fatality resulting from an attack by a mountain goat. [13]


Although mountain goats have never been domesticated and commercialized for their wool, pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast did incorporate their wool into their weaving by collecting spring moulted wool left by wild goats. [14]

Related Research Articles

Caprinae Subfamily of mammals

The subfamily Caprinae is part of the ruminant family Bovidae, and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine, or, more informally, a goat-antelope.

Chamois Species of antelope

The chamois is a species of goat-antelope native to mountains in Europe, from west to east, including the Cantabrian Mountains, the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Apennines, the Dinarides, the Tatra and the Carpathian Mountains, the Balkan Mountains, the Rila–Rhodope massif, Pindus, the northeastern mountains of Turkey, and the Caucasus. The chamois has also been introduced to the South Island of New Zealand. Some subspecies of chamois are strictly protected in the EU under the European Habitats Directive.

Bighorn sheep Species of sheep native to North America

The bighorn sheep is a species of sheep native to North America. It is named for its large horns. A pair of horns might weigh up to 14 kg (30 lb); the sheep typically weigh up to 143 kg (315 lb). Recent genetic testing indicates three distinct subspecies of Ovis canadensis, one of which is endangered: O. c. sierrae. Sheep originally crossed to North America over the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia; the population in North America peaked in the millions, and the bighorn sheep entered into the mythology of Native Americans. By 1900, the population had crashed to several thousand, due to diseases introduced through European livestock and overhunting.

Vicuña Wild South American camelid

The vicuña or vicuna is one of the two wild South American camelids, which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, the other being the guanaco, which lives at lower elevations. Vicuñas are relatives of the llama, and are now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years and has to be caught from the wild. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's wool is very soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments; today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears on the Peruvian coat of arms.

<i>Capra</i> (genus) Genus of mammals, the goats

Capra is a genus of mammals, the goats, composed of up to nine species, including the markhor and many species known as ibexes. The domestic goat is a domesticated species derived from the wild goat. Evidence of goat domestication dates back more than 8,500 years.

Markhor Species of mammal

The markhor is a large Capra species native to Central Asia, Karakoram and the Himalayas. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened since 2015.

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep

The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is subspecies of bighorn sheep unique to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. A 2016 genetics study confirmed significant divergence between the three subspecies of North America's bighorn sheep: Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and desert bighorn sheep. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep were listed as a federally endangered subspecies in 2000. As of 2016, over 600 Sierra bighorn remain in the wild.

Long-tailed goral Species of mammal

The long-tailed goral or Amur goral is a species of ungulate of the family Bovidae found in the mountains of eastern and northern Asia, including Russia, China, and Korea. A population of this species exists in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, near the tracks of the Donghae Bukbu Line. The species is classified as endangered in South Korea, with an estimated population less than 250. It has been designated South Korean natural monument 217. In 2003, the species was reported as being present in Arunachal Pradesh, in northeast India.

Siberian ibex Species of mammal

The Siberian ibex, also known as the Altai ibex, Central Asia(n) ibex, Gobi ibex, Himalayan ibex, Mongolian ibex or Tian Shan ibex, is a species of ibex that lives in central Asia. It has traditionally been treated as a subspecies of the Alpine ibex, and whether it is specifically distinct from other ibex is still not entirely clear. It is the longest and heaviest member of the genus Capra, though its shoulder height is surpassed by the markhor.

Golden takin

The golden takin is an endangered goat-antelope, native to the Qin Mountains in China's southern Shaanxi province. Golden takins have unique adaptations that help them stay warm and dry during the bitter cold of winter in the rugged Himalayan Mountains. Their large, moose-like snout has large sinus cavities that heats inhaled air, preventing the loss of body heat during respiration. A thick, secondary coat is grown to keep out the cold of the winters and provide protection from the elements.

Sichuan takin

The Sichuan takin or Tibetan takin is a subspecies of takin (goat-antelope). Budorcas from Greek bous and dorkas ("gazelle"); taxicolor from Latin taxus ("badger") and color ("hue") referring to badger-like coloration Listed as a vulnerable species, the Sichuan takin is native to Tibet and the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang in the People's Republic of China.

Goat Domesticated mammal (Capra aegagrus hircus)

The domestic goat or simply goat is a domesticated species of goat-antelope typically kept as livestock. It was domesticated from the wild goat of Southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the animal family Bovidae and the subfamily Caprinae, meaning it is closely related to the sheep. There are over 300 distinct breeds of goat. It is one of the oldest domesticated species of animal, according to archaeological evidence that its earliest domestication occurred in Iran at 10,000 calibrated calendar years ago.

Chinese goral Species of mammal

The Chinese goral, also known as the grey long-tailed goral or central Chinese goral, is a species of goral, a small goat-like ungulate, native to mountainous regions of Myanmar, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly Laos. In some parts of its range, it is overhunted. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed it as a "vulnerable species".

Ecology of the North Cascades Ecosystems of the Cascade mountain range in northern Washington state and southern British Columbia

The Ecology of the North Cascades is heavily influenced by the high elevation and rain shadow effects of the mountain range. The North Cascades is a section of the Cascade Range from the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River in Washington, United States, to the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers in British Columbia, Canada, where the range is officially called the Cascade Mountains but is usually referred to as the Canadian Cascades. The North Cascades Ecoregion is a Level III ecoregion in the Commission for Environmental Cooperation's classification system.

Cascade Mountains leeward forests Temperate coniferous forest ecoregion in British Columbia, Canada and Washington, United States

The Cascade Mountains leeward forests are a temperate coniferous forest ecoregion of North America, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) categorization system.

Alberta Mountain forests Temperate coniferous forests ecoregion of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada

The Alberta Mountain forests are a temperate coniferous forests ecoregion of Western Canada, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) categorization system.

North Central Rockies forests Temperate coniferous forest ecoregion in Canada and the United States

The North Central Rockies forests is a temperate coniferous forest ecoregion of Canada and the United States. This region overlaps in large part with the North American inland temperate rainforest and gets more rain on average than the South Central Rockies forests and is notable for containing the only inland populations of many species from the Pacific coast.

Mammals of Olympic National Park

There are at least 9 large terrestrial mammal, 50 small mammal and 14 marine mammal species known to occur in Olympic National Park.

<i>Viola flettii</i> Species of flowering plant

Viola flettii is a species of violet known by the common name Olympic violet. Native to the northeastern and eastern Olympic Mountains of Washington in northwestern United States, it occurs on rocky outcrops and talus at subalpine and alpine elevations, i.e., from 1,340–2,000 metres (4,400–6,560 ft), and blooms from June through August. This rhizomatous herb produces a hairless stem reaching a maximum height of a few centimeters to around 15 centimeters. The basal leaves have purple-veined green reniform blades borne on petioles. Leaves on the flower stem are similar but smaller. A solitary flower is borne on a slender upright stem. It has five purplish-violet petals with yellowish bases, the lower three with purple veins. The lateral pair are bearded as is the stigma. The spur on the lowest petal is much shorter than the petal.


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  9. "Mountain Goats". National Park Service . Retrieved 21 October 2010.
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Further reading