Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Since it's still the Year of the Sheep (or Goat), I thought I would write an entry about the Rocky Mountain goat, which is an animal that is well known for climbing around on cliffs and crags that most animals would fall off of.  But imagine my surprise when I learned that the mountain goat is not really a goat at all!  Instead of being in the goat family, it is in a subfamily called Caprinae, or goat-antelopes, which includes species such as sheep, the chamois, and the muskox.

The range of the mountain goat includes the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, and other mountain regions of the Western Cordillera, from Washington, Idaho, and Montana, through British Columbia, Alberta, southern Yukon and southeastern Alaska.  There are also introduced populations in other areas of the U.S.  In all, there are thought to be 100,000 members of the species in North America.

Glacier National Park; photo by Ron Niebrugge

Mountain goats are the largest mammals to live in high-altitude habitats that sometimes exceed 13,000 feet.  Most of the year, they stay above the tree line, although they migrate seasonally to higher or lower elevations within that range.  They feed on grasses, sedges, herbs, shrubs, ferns, mosses, and lichen.

Male mountain goats are called "billies," and females are called "nannies," just as if they were real goats.  Both males and females have beards, short tails, and long black horns which contain yearly growth rings.

Learning to be Mountain Goats

The reason why mountain goats are so good at climbing is because they have cloven (divided) hooves that can spread apart to improve balance.  Their feet also have rough inner pads on the bottom of each toe to provide traction, and sharp dewclaws to prevent slipping.  The animals are so strong and nimble that they can jump 12 feet in a single bound.

Bad Hair Day

 Mountain goats are white, and they have double coats.  The dense woolly undercoat is covered by an outer coat made up of longer, hollow hairs.  These thick coats allow the animals to withstand temperatures as low as -50ºF and winds of up to 100 mph.  In the spring, the goats molt by rubbing against rocks and trees.  The males molt first, and the females shed their coats after their kids have been born.

Glacier National Park; photo by Wingchi Poon
Nannies come into season in late October through early December.  Billies may dig rutting pits and put on showy fights to attract the attention of females.  Both males and females usually mate with more than one partner.  At the end of the breeding season, males and females go their separate ways, and the females form loose-knit nursery groups of up to 50 animals.

Kids are born in late May or early June.  Each nanny generally has only one offspring that weighs about 7 pounds at birth.  Within hours, kids start trying to run and climb.  After a month, the youngsters are mostly weaned, but they will follow their mothers closely for the first year of life.

Nannies protect their kids fiercely from predators such as eagles, wolves, wolverines, lynxes, bears, and cougars.  They will also position themselves below their kids on steep slopes to stop freefalls.


One time my mom saw a Rocky Mountain goat.  It was in Glacier National Park.  But I don't care if I ever see one because they live way up high where it's cold and snowy, which is not the kind of place any sensible chihuahua would want to go!

1 comment:

  1. Son interesantes estos animales, cuanto más hinóspito y escarpado es el paisaje, más les gusta a ellos y se mueven con toda tranquilidad por esas peñas y rocas.
    Saludos y gracias por compartir