Moschidae – Musk deers

Oh dear, is that a saber-toothed deer I smell!?

Musk deer, belonging to the family Moschidae, represent an ancient and unique lineage of hoofed mammals found primarily in the mountainous regions of Central and East Asia, including the Himalayas. These elusive creatures are adapted to live in rugged terrain, where their solitary and nocturnal habits help them evade predators and human disturbances. Unlike true deer of the Cervidae family, musk deer are characterized by their lack of antlers and the presence of distinct musk glands in males, which play a crucial role in reproductive behavior.

The musk produced by males is a highly valued substance, historically used in perfumery, traditional medicine, and as an aphrodisiac. This musk is secreted from a gland located between the male’s abdomen and genitals, emitting a powerful scent that attracts females during the breeding season. Unfortunately, the demand for musk has led to intense poaching, placing significant pressure on musk deer populations and contributing to their status as vulnerable or endangered across their range.

Another distinctive feature of musk deer is their long, saber-like fangs, which are enlarged upper canine teeth. These fangs can grow up to 10 cm (about 4 inches) in length and serve as weapons during mating season, when males engage in fierce battles over access to females. These adaptations highlight the unique evolutionary path of musk deer, distinguishing them from their deer relatives.

Musk deer are primarily browsers, feeding on various leaves, flowers, mosses, and lichens. Their diet changes with the seasons, depending on the food availability in their mountainous habitats. The harsh, often snowy environment requires musk deer to have excellent foraging skills to survive the cold months when food is scarce.