Musk deer

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Musk deer
Temporal range: Late Miocene–recent
Musk deer in Edinburgh Zoo.jpg
Siberian musk deer
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Moschidae
Gray, 1821
Genus: Moschus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Moschus moschiferus
Linnaeus, 1758

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, but rather their family is closely related to Bovidae, the group that contains antelopes, bovines, sheep, and goats. 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 South 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 characteristic teeth Porte musc global.jpg
Skull of a buck showing the characteristic 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. In order to indicate their area, musk deer build latrines. These locations can be used to identify the musk deer's existence, number, and preferred habitat in the wild.[ citation needed ] 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.[ clarification needed ] It is rumored that ancient royalty wore the scent of the musk deer, and that it is an aphrodisiac. [4]


Musk deer have a global population between 400,000 to 800,000 currently, however the exact count is undetermined. [5] They are widely spread; however, their population density increases within China, Russia, and Mongolia. Musk deer are commonly found in China, and they are spread over 17 provinces. [6] [7] [8] This population is mainly located around the Himalayas in southern Asia, southeast Asia, and eastern Asia. [7] They are also found in a few spots in Russia. As of 2003, they became a protected species due to their declined overall population. [6] Musk deer have many subspecies that have varying population sizes, within the overall total, and all are threatened. [6] Over the past twenty years, the populations are being able to slightly recover due to the captive breeding of these animals, specifically in China. [8] Musk deer populations are recovering due to the protocols and rules being set in place to protect the species. [8]


The musk deer species is generally solitary and lives in the higher regions of mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas. The varying species' habitats include different atmospheres and necessary resources for their survival, while including similar universal resources. Musk deer population has been declining recently due to environmental and human factors. [5] As a large-bodied mammal, they have great needs that are not able to be sustained due to habitat fragmentation. [9] This species is largely protected due to the threat of extinction, due to the increase in illegal hunting. Illegal hunting has significantly decreased the population throughout many of the provinces musk deer occupy. [8] Their habitats are being lost to colonization and deforestation and hunting for musk deer was on the rise. [6] They were hunted for their distinct products that are very valuable in the market. [7] Since then, the Chinese government has stepped in to regulate these issues. [6] They have placed rules pertaining to the killing of musk deer and created havens for the deer to survive. To help with the declining numbers, the deforestation of their natural habitat should be stopped and new habitats should be invested in them. [5] Global climate change has also driven the musk deer population down. The warmer climates result in the drive to higher elevations and latitudes. [10] Global warming and habitat fragmentation are two causes for the population decrease.


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. [11]


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, goats, sheep and cattle). [12] [13]

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

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deer</span> Family of mammals

A deer or true deer is a hoofed ruminant ungulate of the family Cervidae. It is divided into subfamilies Cervinae and Capreolinae. Male deer of almost all species, as well as female reindeer, grow and shed new antlers each year. These antlers are bony extensions of the skull and are often used for combat between males.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musk</span> Class of aromatic substances used in perfumes

Musk is a class of aromatic substances commonly used as base notes in perfumery. They include glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors. Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a strong odor obtained from a gland of the musk deer. The substance has been used as a popular perfume fixative since ancient times and is one of the most expensive animal products in the world. The name originates from the Late Greek μόσχος 'moskhos', from Persian mushk and Sanskrit मुष्क muṣka derived from Proto-Indo-European noun múh₂s meaning "mouse". The deer gland was thought to resemble a scrotum. It is applied to various plants and animals of similar smell and has come to encompass a wide variety of aromatic substances with similar odors, despite their often differing chemical structures and molecular shapes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moschidae</span> Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

Moschidae is a family of pecoran even-toed ungulates, containing the musk deer (Moschus) and its extinct relatives. They are characterized by long 'saber teeth' instead of horns, antlers or ossicones, modest size and a lack of facial glands. While various Oligocene and Miocene pecorans were previously assigned to this family, recent studies find that most should be assigned to their own clades, although further research would need to confirm these traits. As a result, Micromeryx, Hispanomeryx, and Moschus are the only undisputed moschid members, making them known from at least 18 Ma. 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muntjac</span> Genus of deer

Muntjacs, also known as the barking deer or rib-faced deer, are small deer of the genus Muntiacus native to South Asia and Southeast Asia. Muntjacs are thought to have begun appearing 15–35 million years ago, with remains found in Miocene deposits in France, Germany and Poland. Most are listed as least-concern species or Data Deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), although others such as the black muntjac, Bornean yellow muntjac, and giant muntjac are vulnerable, near threatened, and Critically Endangered, respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southern red muntjac</span> Species of deer

The southern red muntjac is a deer species native to Southeast Asia. It was formerly known as the Indian muntjac or the common muntjac before the species was taxonomically revised to represent only populations of Sunda and perhaps Malaysia. The other populations being attributed to this species are now attributed to Muntiacus vaginalis. Muntjacs are also referred to as barking deer. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Water deer</span> Species of mammals belonging to the deer family of ruminants

The water deer is a small deer species native to Korea and China. 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. It was first described to the Western world by Robert Swinhoe in 1870.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pecora</span> 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 "cattle". 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.

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">White-bellied musk deer</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yellow-throated marten</span> Species of carnivore

The yellow-throated marten is a marten species native to the Himalayas, Southeast and East Asia. Its coat is bright yellow-golden, and its head and back are distinctly darker, blending together black, white, golden-yellow and brown. It is the second-largest marten in the Old World, after the Nilgiri marten, with its tail making up more than half its body length.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dwarf musk deer</span> Species of mammal

The dwarf musk deer or Chinese forest musk deer is an artiodactyl native to southern and central China and northernmost Vietnam. The species name is after the collector Mikhail Mikhailovich Berezovsky. On June 14, 1976, China entered the dwarf musk deer onto its endangered species list. Four subspecies are recognized:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black musk deer</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine musk deer</span> 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.

Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary, is a wildlife sanctuary declared under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and located in Uttarakhand, India. Its alternate name comes from its primary purpose of protecting the endangered Himalayan musk deer. Consisting of an area of 975 km2 (376 sq mi), it is the largest protected area in the western Himalayas.It is famous for alpine musk deer, Himalayan Thar, Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Black bear, Snow Leopard and other flora park and fauna. It is internationally important for the diversity of its flora and fauna.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deer musk</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kashmir musk deer</span> Species of mammal

The Kashmir musk deer is an endangered species of musk deer native to Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. It was originally described as a subspecies to the alpine musk deer, but is now classified as a separate species. It stands at 60 cm (24 in) tall, and only males have tusks which they use during mating season to compete for females.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anhui musk deer</span> Species of mammal

The Anhui musk deer is an endangered species of musk deer that is endemic to the Dabie Mountains of western Anhui province, China. It was formerly described as a subspecies of Moschus berezovskii and Moschus moschiferus, but is now classified as a separate species.

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.


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