Saturday, September 3, 2016

More about mountain goats...

To those folks that hear about mountain goats for the first time and wonder what kind of animal it is, I usually say that it's the American equivalent of the chamois. Sure-footed, high-mountain dweller and elusive, both share very similar traits, but are they quite the same?

Are they to goats what a mountain bike is to a road bike? Not really, according to scientists. To be considered a true goat, an animal must be a member of the genus Capra. The chamois (Rupicapra), like sheep and goats, are part of the goat-antelope subfamily (Caprinae) of the family Bovidae.

North American mountain goats, however, are the sole species of the genus Oreamnos. Yet, this Latin genus name doesn't tell us if a mountain goat is a “true” goat. Oreamnos literally means "mountain lamb," which is a misnomer since goats are different than sheep.

Generally, people have a tendency of lumping mountain goats as a genetic cross between normal goats and antelopes, or goat-antelopes, just like our American pronghorn (these being reminiscent, because of their coat color, of the European chamois).

However, molecular studies also have linked mountain goats to muskox (sounds like a stretch, although some could find visual similarities). Scientists also assert that mountain goats share skeletal characteristics with a bovine species called rupicaprids.

Those are a subset of the animal family Caprinae, which includes oxen, sheep and true goats. Mountain goats are the only rupicaprids in North America. Their predecessors crossed over the Bering land bridge from Asia 40,000 years ago.
Today, five species comprise the tribe: the goral, the Japanese serow, the chamois and our American mountain goat; all share the same antelope ancestry. Each looks quite different from one another though, except for the signature horns, pronghorn excepted. So, in the end, chamois and mountain goats comes back in full circle and I wasn't that off when I lumped them together...

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