Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Species Spotlight: Mountain Goat

July 13, 2009, 2:52 pm

Contrary to its name, the mountain goat isn’t a true goat. This even-toed ungulate belongs to the order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae and subfamily Caprinae–along with thirty-two other species including the true goat–but claims the genus Oreamnos all to itself. Found only in North America, these nimble climbers are found at high elevations often resting on rocky cliffs that predators cannot reach.

Description: Mountain goats are designed to climb steep rocks. Their feet have skid-resistant pads and their two front toes can move apart and squeeze back together to better grip rocky escarpments.  They use their two back hooves as brakes when they descend steep terrain.

Both male and female mountain goats have beards, short tails and long black horns (15-28 cm long) that show yearly growth rings. Their woolly, double coats protect from the hostile climate of their habitat.

Characteristics:

Body Length: Males reach lengths of up to 69 inches and females 57 inches.

Shoulder Height: Males reach up to 48 inches and females 36 inches.

Weight: Adult males weigh 101-225 pounds; females are 10-30% lighter

Park Habitat:

Mountain goats inhabit rocky terrain in alpine and subalpine regions. They usually keep to their high mountain range all year long, only going below the treeline in the case of really severe winter weather.

A great place to spot mountain goats in Glacier National Park is at the aptly named Goat  Lick Overlook, located along U.S. Highway 2 approximately 2.5 miles east of the Walton Ranger Station. Mountain goats and other animals come to this exposed riverbank to lick the mineral-laden cliffs.

Diet: These majestic beasts graze on a wide variety of grasses, sedges, herbs, shrub leaves and twigs, ferns, mosses, lichen, even conifer needles.

Interesting Fact: Before the Northern Trail opened at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, yearling mountain goats climbed 8 feet tall chain link fences without breaking a sweat!