Musk Deer, Moschus moschiferus

Geographic Range

Palearctic, Oriental: Eastern Asia; Southern China, and Burma, to almost the northern forest boundries. Also found in the Himalayas.

Physical Characteristics

Mass: 15 to 17 kg.

Differ sharply from other deer. Long well-muscled hind legs; shorter, weaker, thin forelimbs; chest usually small; back highly arched back, so that the animal is much higher at the sacrum than at the shoulders. This body structure correlates with the animal’s usual pattern of movement, a series of well coordinated jumps generated from the hind legs. Males weigh slightly less than females. Neither sex has antlers. The male has fine and extremely sharp canines protruding directly downward from the mouth. In older males, canine tips extend considerably below the lower jaw.

Age-related changes in hair coat and colorings: new-borns have short, dark brown, soft hair, densely covered with yellowish or white spots. By the second winter, young molt into their winter coat, which consists of coarse hair typical of an adult. The spots become less defined or absent.

Over 130 plant species are consumed by musk deer. In the winter, arboreal lichens and some terrestrial bushy lichens make up about 70% of the contents of a musk deer’s stomach (by weight). Musk deer also eat young shoots, coniferous needles, leaves, buds, and bark of mountain ash, aspens, maple, willow, bird cherry , and honeysuckle. In the summer, herbaceous plants are the main diet. These include buckwheat, geranium, some grasses, and spirea.Food Habits


Estrus occurs in December usually lasts for three to four weeks. The gestation period is 185-195 days and there is no latent stage of embryonic development. Females deliver one fawn or rarely two. Fawning occurs in secluded places such as beneath dense shrubs, under low branches of fir, or around fallen trees. Strangely, up to 1/3 of adult females remain barren every year. Fawns stay with their mothers for up to two years (two winters).


Active at twilight or at night. They are shy and furtive animals. They are much less active in heavy snowfall. Musk deer usually live singly or in groups of two or three (a mother and her young). Musk deer migrate from the steep mountain slopes they occupy in the winter to their summer range in grassy meadows found near mountain river valleys. Vision and hearing are thought to be keen, and sense of smell poor. A musk pouch (located between the sex organs and the navel) releases a scent that is believed to be a signal to attract a mate.


Mostly, musk deer inhabit the middle altitudes of montane taiga (usually not found above 1600m). In the winter, they are attracted to relatively steep slopes covered with coniferous forests. Favorite habitats are sections with rock outcrops, which provide shelter from predators. In the summer, most of their time is spent in valleys of forest rivers, around streams, and near fields with good grassy vegatation (e.g., where coniferous taiga alternates with mixed deciduous forest). They avoid marshy forests.

Biomes: taiga, temperate forest & rainforest, tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous forest, tropical scrub forest, mountains

Economic Importance for Humans


Musk deer are caught mainly for musk (“musk deer perfume”), present only in the males. Musk is secreted by a saccate gland located between the sex organs and the naval. In the past, musk was used in medicine in Europe and the East. The use of musk as a natural perfume base (used in preparing high quality scents) was discovered later. When this happened, the use of musk in perfume boomed. In Nepal in 1972, for example, an ounce of musk was worth more than an ounce of gold.


Status: endangered

The musk deer has long been hunted for its prized “musk pouch.” In 1855, around 81,200 sacs were exported from Russia to China through Kyakhta, and a few years later, Japan imported over 100,000 sacs in a single year. The musk deer population diminished greatly, and in 1927, only 5,089 sacs were collected. This lead to the classification of the animal as endangered by the USDI (1980). The musk deer also appears in Appendix 1 of CITES.

Other Comments

The main predators of the musk deer (other than man), are the lynx, wolverine, and the yellow-throated marten. In one study, done in the mountains, musk deer remains were found in 43% of the feces of lynx.


“Mammals of the Soviet Union”; V.G.Heptner, Nasimovich, Bannikov. Vol 1, 1961. Translated in 1988 Amerind Publishing Co. Prt. Ltd., New Delhi. p100-124.

“Walker’s Mammals of the World”; R.M.Nowak, Paradiso. Vol 2. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1983. p.1200-1201.

“The Encyclopedia of Mammals”; Dr. David Macdonald. Equinox (Oxford) Ltd., 1984. p.518-519.



Reference written by Jeremy Mulder, Biology 108 student.
Page last updated 29 April 1996
Copyright  1995-2000, The Regents of the University of Michigan

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