Musk deer were long considered members of the deer family. However, they differ from other deer in some respects. For example, musk deer alone have gall bladders. Also, the males don’t grow antlers, while the males of all other deer species (and some females) do.
Musk deer also resemble bovids, or horned mammals. So scientists finally placed musk deer in their own family.
Some scientists think musk deer may resemble the prehistoric (Miocene) ancestors from which horned mammals and deer evolved. Perhaps that’s why musk deer have neither antlers nor horns-they can’t decide which to grow!
There are just three musk deer species. Moschus moschiferous is native to Siberia, northern Mongolia, Manchuria, and Sakhalin. Moschus chrysogaster is found in the Himalayas, in central and southern China, and in northern Viet Nam.Moschus sifanicus occurs in the Himalayas, in central China, and in Burma.
Musk deer are among the smallest of hoofed mammals, weighing about 15-38 pounds. (One source says 20-25 pounds.) They are generally dark brownish in color, mottled and speckled with light gray above and whitish markings on the ears, chin, and thighs.
If you’re looking for a saber-toothed deer, check out musk deer! The upper canines have evolved into tusks about three inches long in males. (Females sport smaller tusks.)
Musk deer have four-chambered ruminating stomachs, similar to deer, cattle, sheep, and other ruminants. They feed on grasses, tender shoots, and moss. In winter, they may feed on twigs, buds, and lichens.
Musk deer are generally found in forests and brushland at fairly high elevations, about 7,500-12,000 feet. Like most forest dwelling hoofed mammals, they are shy, timid, and usually solitary. Musk deer are most active in the morning and evening (crepuscular). By day, they sleep in “forms” similar to those used by hares.
Musk deer’s downfall is a musk gland in the abdomens of males aged three or older. The brownish waxlike substance it secretes is in great demand for use in perfume and soap. The pouch the musk is stored in is also highly valued.
Because of the demand for this substance, musk deer have been wiped out in parts of their range. Traps set for male musk deer often kill females or young.