Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rocky Mountain Goats

Mountain goats grazing on alpine vegetation

Goat? Nay. Not even close actually. The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), also know as the Rocky Mountain goat, is actually a member of the antelope family. Yup, "home on the range" antelopes. This large-hoofed mammal is only found in the subalpine to alpine zones of western mountain ranges in North America. Predators aren't a problem due to extreme alpine conditions during the winter, but they have to be wary when the snow melts. Thanks to sure-footedness from pliable hooves with rubbery pads and muscular forequarters, these mountain champions can conquer craggy rock surfaces where predators cannot follow. More mountain goats actually die from avalanches and rockslides than predation. Being herbivores, they spend most of their time grazing herbs, grasses, lichen, sedges, ferns, mosses, twigs and leaves. A double layer fur coat helps it survive extreme cold temperatures at high elevation over winter, with the overcoat molting and falling off during warming months.

Mountain goats typically live in herds, which they change seasonally after mating. Nannies (females goats) tend to herd together for most of the year with their kids (yes, baby mountain goats are called kids), while males, known as billies, either go lone-wolf or travel in groups of 2 or 3. In summer, herds tend to be smaller and travel between salt licks and water sources. Nannies can be extremely territorial, fighting other nannies within the herd over food.

A nanny with her twinnies

Nannies in a herd typically undergo synchronized estrus in October to December, which means they all go into "heat" at the same time and are ready to mate. Knowing sexy-time is around the corner, mature males join the female herds at this time. Males often go through mating rituals that includes staring at the females (I mean, who doesn't), digging ruts in the ground with their hooves and showy fights with other males, often involving locking horns. Both males and females are highly promiscuous and will mate with multiple individuals over the course of the entire mating season. However, males will often try to fend off other males from mating with females they've already mated with.

Gestation takes around 150 to 180 days, or 5 to 6 months. After separating itself from the herd, a nanny typically gives birth to a single kid, with twins (called twinnies) typically a rarity. After birth, kids are expected to get on their feet within a few hours before the nanny heads back to the herd. Kids stay with their for about a month, with some staying as long as till the next breeding season. If the kid is still around by the following breeding season, the mother will chase it away. When observing a herd, one can often see kids playing and jumping around with each other.

Month old twinnies resting at midday

Interesting tid-bits
  • After the age of 22 months, you can tell how old a mountain goat is by counting the number of rings on its horns
  • Can jump nearly 12 feet in a single bound.
  • Both males and females have horns.
  • Both sexes are not sexually mature till 30 months, old compared to other hoofed megafauna.
  • Eagles may occasionally try to chase a kid off of a cliff for a meal. 

No comments:

Post a Comment