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Mountain Goat
Cool Critter Factoids
Latin Name:
Oreamnos americanus
Habitat: Mountainous regions of southern
and coastal Alaska
Classification: Mammal, herbivore

Dangerous heights don't frighten these Alaska mountain climbers. In fact, they prefer slippery slopes and rocks to lower elevations, where they are much more likely to be hunted by a predator. Mountain goats spend almost their entire lives roaming treacherous peaks and rock faces.

Mountain-Lopes

Mountain goats are actually more closely related to antelopes. But unlike swift animals of the desert and prairie, these goats are well adapted to mountainous homes. Mountain goats have slim bodies that let them shimmy over ledges and squeeze close to rocks. Their hooves are split into two sections, allowing them to spread the halves to grip a larger rock surface. The bottoms of their hooves have rubbery pads, like shoe soles. The pads provided the goats with even more traction. They also have two stubby "dewclaws" on the backs of their legs they can use for gripping and slowing if they slide down a slope. Even so, mountain goats occasionally lose their footing and fall, especially if they're climbing to avoid predators or fighting another goat. In spite of their climbing skills and fearless movements, mountain goats sometimes find themselves in tight spots.

Think about it: Know what a "dewclaw" is? Do you have a family dog? Check it out . . .

Shaggy Billy Beards
Both male and female mountain goats are covered with two layers of white fur. The inside layer is softer and provides extra warmth in the winter. The outer layer grows long and shaggy, and is made up of hollow hairs that repel water. The goats scrape against rocks to shed this outer coat in summers. Full-grown male mountain goats are usually between 5 and 6 feet long and stand about 30 to 40 inches at the shoulder. They weigh between 150 and 300 pounds. Their eyes and noses are black, and they grow slim black horns on their heads. The horns are usually 10 to 12 inches and curve slightly at their points. They have long white hairs under their chins like beards.

Mountain goats' hind legs are smaller and weaker than their front legs. They use their front legs to pull themselves up the mountain. They cannot run fast, because their bodies are better suited for climbing up slopes instead of propelling across flat lands. In spite of their smaller hind legs, mountain goats are nimble jumpers.

Think about it: How is a mountain goat's fur like a snow-skiing jacket?

Excuse me, I was sitting there...
Mountain goats don't always get along with each other. They have some strange competitive habits. For most of the year, female mountain goats dominate the herd, followed by juveniles and then males. The females protect their food and young by lowering their heads and stabbing at each other with their horns. They are easily irritated if another female goat invades their space or tries to steal their resting or grazing spot.

Mountain goats form larger groups of both males and females in winter. Males are usually solitary in the summer, sometimes collecting in small males-only "bachelor" groups. But when the early winter mating season comes, male goats soon fight each other to impress females. They don't bang heads, but move alongside each other to jab their horns in each other's sides. During these jousting matches, even the most sure-footed mountain goat might lose its balance and pitch over a cliff. Some mountain goats have missing teeth and scars on their bellies and hindquarters, evidence of fights and tumbles.

Think about it:
Why do you think female mountain goats are so protective of their feeding areas?

Watch Out Above!
Baby mountain goats, called "kids," are born in the spring. Mothers boldly defend their young from predators in lower elevations. The kids stay near to their mothers and learn how to climb and scamper away from threats like wolves and grizzly bears. But even high mountain peaks don't always protect the kids. Golden eagles like to swoop down and knock young goats off the cliffs where the mother can't protect them. Female mountain goats combat this by staying downhill and behind their young on the slope, to protect them from falls and shield them from predators. These goats are not fast, so the must rely on their unique climbing ability to escape predators.

Think about it: Why are mountain goats' front legs stronger than their back legs?

Mmm...Cud?
Mountain goats are herbivores, so you can imagine that they have a hard time finding food in the winter. In the spring and summer, they eat all sorts of plants such as grasses, herbs, ferns, and moss. They roam mostly dry areas, where springs and rivers are scarce. Mountain goats have to get their water from plants and snow banks. Winter conditions cause even more problems, as slopes and rock faces become slippery and even more dangerous. They have to be extra careful to avoid slipping on ice or ending up on the wrong side of an avalanche. Mountain coats chew cud like cows. They swallow their food, then regurgitate it chew again. They have microorganisms in their stomachs that produce heat and help to keep the goats warm in the winter.

Think about it:
How do mountain goats get water?

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Image provided by Anchorage Daily News.

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