Mountain goat

Last updated

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
Tribe: Caprini
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 takins (Budorcas) and chamois (Rupicapra).

Classification and evolution

The mountain goat is an even-toed ungulate of the order Artiodactyla and the family Bovidae (along with 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 era, 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 ὄρος óros (stem ore-) meaning "mountain" (or, alternatively, oreas "mountain nymph") and the word ἀμνός amnós meaning "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 greyish 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).[ failed verification ] 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. British Columbia contains half of the world's population of mountain goats. [9] Its northernmost range is said to be along the northern fringe of the Chugach Mountains in south-central 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. [10]

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 16-20 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. [11] 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 cougar, or 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, [12] 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 mountain goat gored a grizzly bear to death in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. [13]

Mountain goats introduced in the 1920s into Washington’s Olympic Mountains were in time found to be a nuisance there, in particular while seeking human urine and sweat for its salt content, the park lacking natural salt licks, and even aggressively approaching human visitors. One such goat killed a hiker in 2010. [14] Officials finally chose to eradicate them from the Olympic Peninsula, removing hundreds, mostly by capturing them and relocating them to the Cascade Mountains. [15]


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. [16]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American black bear</span> Species of bear

The American black bear, also known as the black bear or sometimes baribal, is a medium-sized bear endemic to North America. It is the continent's smallest and most widely distributed bear species. American black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location. They typically live in largely forested areas, but will leave forests in search of food, and are sometimes attracted to human communities due to the immediate availability of food.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Himalayan tahr</span> Species of even-toed ungulate

The Himalayan tahr is a large even-toed ungulate native to the Himalayas in southern Tibet, northern India, western Bhutan and Nepal. It is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, as the population is declining due to hunting and habitat loss.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caprinae</span> Subfamily of mammals

The subfamily Caprinae, also sometimes referred to as the tribe Caprini, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ibex</span> Type of mammal

An ibex is any of several species of wild goat , distinguished by the male's large recurved horns, which are transversely ridged in front. Ibex are found in Eurasia, North Africa and East Africa. The name ibex comes from Latin, borrowed from Iberian or Aquitanian, akin to Old Spanish bezerro "bull", modern Spanish becerro "yearling". Ranging in height from 70 to 110 centimetres (27–43 in) and weighing 90 to 120 kilograms (200–270 lb), ibex can live up to 20 years. Two closely related varieties of goats found in the wild are not usually called ibex: the markhor and the feral goat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chamois</span> Species of antelope

The chamois or Alpine chamois is a species of goat-antelope native to mountains in Europe, from west to east, including the Alps, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine ibex</span> Species of mammal

The Alpine ibex, also known as the steinbock, bouquetin, or simply ibex, is a species of wild goat that lives in the mountains of the European Alps. It is a sexually dimorphic species: males are larger and carry longer, curved horns than females. Its coat colour is typically brownish grey. Alpine ibex tend to live in steep, rough terrain near the snow line. They are also social, although adult males and females segregate for most of the year, coming together only to mate. Four distinct groups exist; adult male groups, female-offspring groups, groups of young individuals, and mixed-sex groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Markhor</span> Species of mammal

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountain weasel</span> Species of mammal

The mountain weasel, also known as the pale weasel, Altai weasel or solongoi, primarily lives in high-altitude environments, as well as rocky tundra and grassy woodlands. This weasel rests in rock crevices, tree trunks, and abandoned burrows of other animals or the animals it previously hunted. The home range size of this animal is currently unknown. Geographical distribution for this species lies in parts of Asia from Kazakhstan, Tibet, and the Himalayas to Mongolia, northeastern China, and southern Siberia. The most common area for this species, however, is Ladakh, India. The conservation status, according to the IUCN, is near threatened because it is considered to be in significant decline and requires monitoring mainly because of habitat and resource loss.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Long-tailed goral</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belding's ground squirrel</span> Species of rodent

Belding's ground squirrel, also called pot gut, sage rat or picket-pin, is a squirrel that lives on mountains in the western United States. In California, it often is found at 6,500 to 11,800 feet (2,000–3,600 m) in meadows between Lake Tahoe and Kings Canyon. This species is not of conservation concern, and its range includes some protected areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arabian tahr</span> Species of mammal

The Arabian tahr is a species of tahr native to eastern Arabia. Until recently, it was placed in the genus Hemitragus, but genetic evidence supports its removal to a separate monotypic genus, Arabitragus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siberian ibex</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountain cottontail</span> Species of mammal

The mountain cottontail or Nuttall's cottontail is a species of mammal in the family Leporidae. It is found in Canada and the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Golden takin</span> Endangered goat-antelope

The golden takin is an endangeredgoat-antelope (takin), native to the Qin Mountains in China's southern Shaanxi province. Golden takins have unique adaptations that help them stay warm and dry during cold Himalayan winters. Their large snout has sinus cavities that heat inhaled air, preventing the loss of body heat during respiration. They grow a thick, secondary coat is as protection from the weather as well as secreting an oily substance that protects them from rain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sichuan takin</span> Subspecies of takin

The Sichuan takin or Tibetan takin is a subspecies of takin (goat-antelope). 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Goat</span> Domesticated mammal (Capra hircus)

The goat or domestic 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 tribe Caprini, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese goral</span> 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".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alberta Mountain forests</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">North Central Rockies forests</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mammals of Olympic National Park</span>

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


  1. Festa-Bianchet, M. (2020). "Oreamnos americanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2020: e.T42680A22153133. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T42680A22153133.en . Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  2. Campos et al 2010[ full citation needed ]
  3. Bibi 2013[ full citation needed ]
  4. "Mountain Goat. Oreamnos americanus". NatGeo . Retrieved December 29, 2007.
  5. 1 2 Oreamnos americanus. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved on 2012-07-24.
  6. Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.) (2005). Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult ISBN   0-7894-7764-5
  7. Lewinson, Ryan T.; Stefanyshyn, Darren J. (2016). "A descriptive analysis of the climbing mechanics of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus)". Zoology. 119 (6): 541–546. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2016.06.001. PMID   27402383.
  8. Lewinson, Ryan; Stefanyshyn, Darren (December 2016). "A descriptive analysis of the climbing mechanics of a mountain goat ( Oreamnos americanus )". Zoology (Jena, Germany). 119 (6): 541–546. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2016.06.001. PMID   27402383.
  9. "Mtngoat". BC Parks . Retrieved 20 March 2022.<
  10. "Mountain Goats". National Park Service . Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  11. Chadwick, D. (1983). A Beast the Color of Winter – The Mountain Goat Observed. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. ISBN   0803264216 via Google Books.
  12. Hamel, Sandra; Côté, Steeve D. (2009). "Maternal defensive behavior of mountain goats against predation by Golden Eagles". Western North American Naturalist. 69 (1): 115–118. doi:10.3398/064.069.0103. ISSN   1527-0904. S2CID   28259274.
  13. "Mountain goat gores grizzly to death in British Columbia". 21 September 2021.
  14. Hiker killed by mountain goat in Olympic Nat'l. Park. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2010-10-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-15.
  15. . (2021-9-29). Retrieved on 2022-5-24.
  16. "Mountain Goat". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-10-03.

Further reading