Musk deer

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Musk deer
Temporal range: Late Miocene–recent
Siberian musk deer
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Moschidae
Gray, 1821
Genus: Moschus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Moschus moschiferus

Musk deer can refer to any one, or all seven, of the species that make up Moschus, the only extant genus of the family Moschidae. [1] Despite being commonly called deer, they are not true deer belonging to the family Cervidae. The musk deer family differs from cervids, or true deer, by lacking antlers and preorbital glands also, possessing only a single pair of teats, a gallbladder, [2] a caudal gland, a pair of canine tusks andof particular economic importance to humansa musk gland.


Musk deer live mainly in forested and alpine scrub habitats in the mountains of southern Asia, notably the Himalayas. Moschids, the proper term when referring to this type of deer rather than one/multiple species of musk deer, are entirely Asian in their present distribution, being extinct in Europe where the earliest musk deer are known to have existed from Oligocene deposits.


Skull of a buck showing the trademark teeth Porte musc global.jpg
Skull of a buck showing the trademark teeth

Musk deer resemble small deer, with a stocky build and hind legs longer than their front legs. They are about 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in) long, 50 to 70 cm (20 to 28 in) high at the shoulder, and weigh between 7 and 17 kg (15 and 37 lb). The feet of musk deer are adapted for climbing in rough terrain. Like the Chinese water deer, a cervid, they have no antlers, but the males do have enlarged upper canines, forming sabre-like tusks. The dental formula is similar to that of true deer:

The musk gland is found only in adult males. It lies in a sac located between the genitals and the umbilicus, and its secretions are most likely used to attract mates.

Musk deer are herbivores, living in hilly, forested environments, generally far from human habitation. Like true deer, they eat mainly leaves, flowers, and grasses, with some mosses and lichens. They are solitary animals and maintain well-defined territories, which they scent mark with their caudal glands. Musk deer are generally shy, and either nocturnal or crepuscular.

Males leave their territories during the rutting season, and compete for mates, using their tusks as weapons. Female musk deer give birth to a single fawn after about 150–180 days. The newborn young are very small, and essentially motionless for the first month of their lives, a feature that helps them remain hidden from predators. [3]

Musk deer have been hunted for their scent glands, which are used in perfumes. The glands can fetch up to $45,000/kg on the black market. It is rumored that ancient royalty wore the scent of the musk deer and that it is an aphrodisiac. [4]


Skeleton of Micromeryx showing the general skeletal features Zwerghirsch-Micromeryx-Skelett.jpg
Skeleton of Micromeryx showing the general skeletal features

Musk deer are the only surviving members of the Moschidae, a family with a fossil record extending over 25 million years to the late Oligocene. The group was abundant across Eurasia and North America until the late Miocene, but underwent a substantial decline, with no Pliocene fossil record and Moschus the only genus since the Pleistocene. The oldest records of the genus Moschus are known from the Late Miocene (Turolian) of Lufeng, China. [5]


While they have been traditionally classified as members of the deer family (as the subfamily "Moschinae") and all the species were classified as one species (under Moschus moschiferus), recent studies have indicated that moschids are more closely related to bovids (antelope, goat-antelope and cattle). [6] [7]

Genus Moschus
Species name    Common name       Distribution          
M. moschiferus Siberian musk deerNorth East Asia
M. anhuiensis Anhui musk deerEastern China
M. berezovskii Dwarf musk deerSouth China and Northern Vietnam
M. fuscus Black musk deerEastern Himalayas
M. chrysogaster Alpine musk deerEastern Himalayas
M. cupreus Kashmir musk deerWestern Himalayas and Hindu Kush
M. leucogaster    White bellied musk deer    Central Himalayas

Related Research Articles

Ungulate Group of animals that use the tips of their toes or hooves to walk on

Ungulates are members of the diverse clade Ungulata which primarily consists of large mammals with hooves. These include odd-toed ungulates such as horses, rhinoceroses, and tapirs; and even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, sheep, deer, and hippopotamuses. Cetaceans such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises are also classified as even-toed ungulates, although they do not have hooves. Most terrestrial ungulates use the hoofed tips of their toes to support their body weight while standing or moving.

Deer Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

Deer or true deer are hoofed ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. The two main groups of deer are the Cervinae, including the muntjac, the elk (wapiti), the red deer, and the fallow deer; and the Capreolinae, including the reindeer (caribou), white-tailed deer, the roe deer, and the moose. Male deer of all species as well as female reindeer, grow and shed new antlers each year. In this they differ from permanently horned antelope, which are part of a different family (Bovidae) within the same order of even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla).

Even-toed ungulate Order of mammals

The even-toed ungulates are ungulates—hoofed animals—which bear weight equally on two of their five toes: the third and fourth. The other three toes are either present, absent, vestigial, or pointing posteriorly. By contrast, odd-toed ungulates bear weight on an odd number of the five toes. Another difference between the two is that even-toed ungulates digest plant cellulose in one or more stomach chambers rather than in their intestine as the odd-toed ungulates do.

Bovidae Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

The Bovidae comprise the biological family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes nilgai, bison, African buffalo, water buffalo, antelopes, wildebeest, hartebeest, Common tsessebe, bontebok, hirola, sheep, goats, muskoxen, and domestic cattle. A member of this family is called a bovid. With 143 extant species and 300 known extinct species, the family Bovidae consists of eight major subfamilies apart from the disputed Peleinae and Pantholopinae. The family evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene.

Moschidae Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

Moschidae is a family of pecoran even-toed ungulates, characterized by long 'saber teeth' instead of horns, antlers or ossicones, modest size and a lack of facial glands. The fossil record of the family extends back to the late Oligocene, around 28 million years ago. The group was abundant across Eurasia and North America during the Miocene, but afterwards declined to only the extant genus Moschus by the early Pleistocene.

Chevrotain Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

Chevrotains, or mouse-deer, are small even-toed ungulates that make up the family Tragulidae, the only extant members of the infraorder Tragulina. The 10 extant species are placed in three genera, but several species also are known only from fossils. The extant species are found in forests in South and Southeast Asia, with a single species, the water chevrotain, in the rainforests of Central and West Africa. They are solitary or live in pairs, and feed almost exclusively on plant material. Chevrotains are the smallest hoofed mammals in the world. The Asian species weigh between 0.7 and 8.0 kg, while the African chevrotain is considerably larger at 7–16 kg (15–35 lb). With an average length of 45 cm (18 in) and an average height of 30 cm (12 in), the Java mouse-deer is the smallest extant (living) ungulate or hoofed mammal, as well as the smallest extant even-toed ungulate.

Indian muntjac Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)

The Indian muntjac, also called the southern red muntjac and barking deer, is a deer species native to South and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Water deer Species of mammals belonging to the deer, muntjac, roe deer, reindeer, and moose family of ruminants

The water deer is a small deer superficially more similar to a musk deer than a true deer. Native to China and Korea, there are two subspecies: the Chinese water deer and the Korean water deer. Despite certain anatomical peculiarities, including a pair of prominent tusks, and its lack of antlers, it is classified as a cervid. Yet, its unique anatomical characteristics have caused it to be classified in its own genus (Hydropotes) as well as its own subfamily (Hydropotinae). However, studies of mitochondrial control region and cytochrome b DNA sequences placed it near Capreolus within an Old World section of the subfamily Capreolinae. Its prominent tusks, similar to those of musk deer, have led to both subspecies being colloquially named vampire deer in English-speaking areas to which they have been imported. The species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. It was first described to the Western world by Robert Swinhoe in 1870.

Pecora Infraorder of mammals

Pecora is an infraorder of even-toed hoofed mammals with ruminant digestion. Most members of Pecora have cranial appendages projecting from their frontal bones; only two extant genera lack them, Hydropotes and Moschus. The name “Pecora” comes from the Latin word pecus, which means “horned livestock”. Although most pecorans have cranial appendages, only some of these are properly called “horns”, and many scientists agree that these appendages did not arise from a common ancestor, but instead evolved independently on at least two occasions. Likewise, while Pecora as a group is supported by both molecular and morphological studies, morphological support for interrelationships between pecoran families is disputed.

Siberian musk deer Species of mammal

The Siberian musk deer is a musk deer found in the mountain forests of Northeast Asia. It is most common in the taiga of southern Siberia, but is also found in parts of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.

<i>Blastomeryx</i> Extinct genus of deer

Blastomeryx is an extinct genus of musk deer endemic to North America. It lived during the Miocene epoch 20.4—10.3 mya, existing for approximately 10 million years. There may be only one species, Blastomeryx gemmifer.

White-bellied musk deer Species of mammal

The white-bellied musk deer or Himalayan musk deer is a musk deer species occurring in the Himalayas of Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and China. It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List because of overexploitation resulting in a probable serious population decline.

Black musk deer Species of mammal

The black musk deer or dusky musk deer is a species of even-toed ungulate in the family Moschidae. It is found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal.

Alpine musk deer Species of musk deer

The Alpine musk deer is a musk deer species native to the eastern Himalayas in Nepal, Bhutan and India to the highlands of Tibet.

<i>Micromeryx</i> Extinct genus of deer

Micromeryx is an extinct genus of musk deer that lived during the Miocene epoch. Fossil remains were found in Europe and Asia. The earliest record (MN4) of the genus comes from the Sibnica 4 paleontological site near Rekovac in Serbia.

Deer musk Odorous substance from male musk deers caudal gland

Deer musk is a substance with a persistent odor, obtained from the caudal glands of the male musk deer.

Kashmir musk deer Species of mammal

The Kashmir musk deer is an endangered species of musk deer native to Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. Recent studies have shown that the species is also native to western Nepal. This species was originally described as a subspecies to the alpine musk deer, but is now classified as a separate species. The deer stand at 60 cm (2.0 ft) tall, and only males have tusks and they use them during mating season to compete for females.

The Gelocidae are an extinct group of hornless ruminantia that are estimated to have lived during the Eocene and Oligocene epochs, from 36 MYA to 6 MYA. The family generally includes extinct hornless ruminants which do not belong to similar families such as Moschidae or Tragulidae. Fossils of family Gelocidae have been discovered in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Hispanomeryx is an extinct genus of artiodactyl from the middle to late Miocene epoch, living from 13 to 8 million years ago. Over the years, they have been variously classified as being related to bovids or giraffes, or even belonging to their own unique family, but they are now widely regarded as moschids, relatives of the living musk deer.


  1. "Moschus (musk deer) Classification". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
  2. "On the structure and affinities of the musk-deer (Moschus mosciferus, Linn.)". 1875.
  3. Frädrich H (1984). "Deer" . In Macdonald D (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp.  518–9. ISBN   978-0-87196-871-5.
  4. Wild Russia, Discovery Channel
  5. G. Qi. 1985. Stratigraphic summarization of Ramapithecus fossil locality, Lufeng, Yunnan. Acta Anthropologica Sinica (Renleixue xuebao)4(1):55-69
  6. Hassanin A, Douzery EJ (April 2003). "Molecular and morphological phylogenies of ruminantia and the alternative position of the moschidae". Systematic Biology. 52 (2): 206–28. doi: 10.1080/10635150390192726 . PMID   12746147.
  7. Guha S, Goyal SP, Kashyap VK (March 2007). "Molecular phylogeny of musk deer: a genomic view with mitochondrial 16S rRNA and cytochrome b gene". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 42 (3): 585–97. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.06.020. PMID   17158073.