How do you study muskox behavior?

Friday, May 26, 2017

How do you study muskox behavior?

If you are Wildlife Conservation Society senior scientist Joel Berger, you dress up like a grizzly bear.

Vocabulary  conservation biology, herd, ungulates, animal behavior, predation, adaptation


How do you get to know rarely seen animals living in a remote part of the world? Some researchers view them from an airplane or capture and tag them to study. Wildlife biologist Joel Berger has another approach: He dresses up like a grizzly bear. Berger wants to know how the muskox — an ancient species that looks like a cross between a buffalo and a goat — handles stressful situations by studying what happens when a natural predator is around. “It’s hard to get inside the head of the animal,” says Berger.

Print this video transcript.


  • Joel Berger says that there are not as many interactions in the Arctic, unlike the Serengeti. What do you think he means by interactions? Why do you think their are fewer in the Arctic?
  • What is Joel Berger’s research question? How is his research related to human interactions with our environment?
  • What adaptations do muskox have to living in the Arctic? What adaptations do muskox have to avoid predators?
  • In addition to observing muskox reactions to the grizzly bear disguise, Berger also collects data on reactions to a caribou disguise. Why is this important to his research on the reaction of muskox to predators?
  • How has technology improved Joel Berger’s ability to collect data on muskox?

Activity Suggestions

  • Have students do the Muskox Maneuvers activity that models the behavior of muskox herds when threatened. Have students alter the numbers to reflect the changes in bull population cited by Joel Burger, and then discuss changes to the behavior of the population and its survival rate. Whenever you use a modeling activity, have students discuss the limitations and assumptions of the model and suggest improvements.
  • Have students investigate adaptations for arctic animals and then look specifically at how muskox are adapted to the arctic.


Female muskoxen use the strength in numbers tactic to ward off dangerous predators, like grizzly bears and, sometimes, polar bears. Credit: Joel Berger

Additional Resources

Next Generation Science Standards: LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in EcosystemsLS2.D: Social Interactions and Group BehaviorCC2: Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation, and SEP2: Developing and Using ModelsCan be used to build towards MS-LS2–4HS-LS2–6 and HS-LS2–8.


Lead Photo Credit: Joel Berger

Xochitl Garcia @msxgarcia -Education program assistant @scifri and 2015 #grosvenorteacherfellow @NatGeoEducation. #STEM Educator obsessed with food and board games.

Science Friday Spoonfuls @scifri ‏ - The latest and greatest science news from public radio’s Science Friday, ready for classroom use.