Mountain goats prefer steep, rocky areas with cliffs or bluffs in alpine or sub-alpine regions. They prefer areas with sufficient escape terrain (steep rocky areas), moderate slopes, mid-elevations, and southern exposures. They migrate between lowland winter areas and high elevation summer ranges. (Gross, et al., 2002)
Mountain goats are stout-bodied with a thick coat made up of white hairs with some brown intermixed dorsally. The pure black horns are about 200 to 300 mm long, rather thin, and present on both sexes. They do not shed these horns--annual growth rings increase the horn size. In this way, the age of the goat can be determined by counting the number of annual growth rings. The male's horn, however, curves back greater than the females. Mountain goats have relatively large, oval hooves with an almost rubber-like sole that aids them in climbing steep rock. They have black scent glands between their horns. The body size of a male and female are similar until 3 years of age. After 3 years of age males are usually 7.5 to 15 cm taller than females. Male mountain goats usually weigh between 61.4 to 81.8 kg and females 56.8 to 70.5 kg. (Gross, et al., 2002; Gross, et al., 2002; "Mountain Goats", 2007)
Prior to and during the breeding season, males compete for females. The do not fight head-to-head but rather stand side-by-side and stab at each other's flanks. Thick skin in this area protects them from serious damage, but deaths have been reported and are usually associated with wounds to the chest, neck, or abdomen. (Cote and Festa-Bianchet, 2001)
Courtship begins in September when males attempt to join small bands of females (alone or in pairs). Males tend to be easier to distinguish at this point, as their coats are dirtier--caused by the action of digging a rutting pit. Male courtship behavior involves a low approach to the female, showing the broad side of the face and beard, licking the female's coat, and kicking the female's flanks. In late October, the females finally accept the courtship of males; these males become part of a "nursery band." These include a female, her young, and any males who have joined in the pre-rut season. Males will typically attempt to prevent other males from copulating with any female (including non-estrous females) when in the nursery band. (Geist, 1964)
Mountain goat breeding season begins in late November and lasts until early January. Gestation is about 150 to 180 days and 1 to 3 kids are born in May to June. The female gives birth on very steep cliffs in her home range to avoid predators. The young are mobile shortly after birth. The young are weaned after 3 to 4 months and stay with the mother until she gives birth the following year. Sexual maturity is reached after 30 months in both sexes, although Cote and Festa-Bianchet (2001) found that kid production was highest among female goats at 8 to 9 years of age. These authors also found that age and social rank were positively correlated, so older females of a higher social rank tend to produce more offspring than lower-ranked, younger females. (Asdell, 1964; Cote and Festa-Bianchet, 2001)
Kids stay with their mother until weaned, from 90 to 120 days old. Following weaning, kids typically stay with the mother until another is born, at which point the mother chases away the yearling. Males aid in the protection of young when they are a part of a nursery band; otherwise the mother is the main source of protection.
Mountain goats typically live until their teeth have been worn completely down--on average, 12 to 15 years in the wild and 16 to 20 years in captivity. This age can be determined by the number of annual growth rings on the interior of the horns. Most goats, however, do not survive more than 12 years. The oldest reported male and female were 15.5 and 18 years old, respectively. (Smith, 1986)
The degree of sociality of mountain goats varies throughout the year. They tend to form large groups during the winter and concentrate at salt licks in the spring, but they form smaller groups or are solitary in the summer. They are active from sunrise to mid-day and again at dusk. Mountain goats establish dominance hierarchies at a young age, by means of the kids' playing behavior. Males are dominant during the breeding season, but non-breeding season hierarchy is unusual. At this time, adult females are dominant, while adult males are subordinate to females and juveniles.
Mountain goats dig 25 - 50 mm deep "bedding depressions," where they rest during the mid-day and night. They also dust bathe in these depressions, possibly to remove parasites or shedding skin/hair. These beds have caused damage to certain rare and endangered plant populations in areas of Washington where mountain goats have been introduced. (Cote and Festa-Bianchet, 2001)
Home ranges are approximately 23 square km in the summer and much smaller in the winter. Mountain goats typically migrate latitudinally, so absolute distance between summer and winter home ranges is rather small. A study by Poole and Heard noted that some radio-collared goats used winter and summer ranges that were 8 to 13 km apart (coupled with less elevational change). (Poole and Heard, 2003; Smith, 1986; Wilson and Kays, 2002)
Mountain goats communicate through vocalitizations during the mating season to attract mates. They display a high frequency of intraspecific aggression. Aggressive behaviors include present threat (a broadside orientation with apparent size enhancement by arching their backs), horn threat (aggressive movement and display of the horns), rush threat (a sudden quick movement toward the antagonist), and orientation threat (a lower intensity form of rush threat involving walking). All of these are examples of bluffing aggression, as individuals rarely suffer serious injuries. (Smith, 1986)
Although their diet varies throughout the year, it generally consists of grasses, woody plants, mosses, lichens, herbaceous plants, and other vegetation. They get most of their water from their food and year-round snowbanks. Mountain goats also travel many kilometers in the spring to mineral-rich salt licks.
The mountain goat's main predators are cougars (Puma concolor). The cougar is versatile enough to move around on the mountains and it is big enough to hunt and kill an adult mountain goat. Bears (Ursus species) may rarely catch a goat when they are on the ground, but if the goats stay on the mountain, it would be extremely difficult for the bear to catch it. Eagles occasionally swoop down and carry off newborns. Wolves (Canis lupus) have been known to also attack mountain goats. In July and August of 1995, one wolf killed a yearling female. However, soon after that incident a adult female successfully defended her kid from an adult wolf. This aggressive defense is rare--a study in 2006 noted just 5 occasions in which mothers defended their kids. (Cote, et al., 1997; Nowak, 1991; Rideout and Hoffmann, 1975)
Ectoparasites that have been found on mountain goats are Dermacentor andersoni (a tick), and a chewing louse, Bovicola oreamnidis. Endoparasites that have been known to affect mountain goats are three species of cestodes: Moniezia benedeni, Thysanosoma actinioides, and Taenia hydatigena. Also 11 species of nematodes: Protostrongylus stilesi, Protostrongylus rushi (both were found on the lungs), Ostertagia circumcincta, O. ostertagi, O. trifurcata, Trichostrongylus colubriformis, Trichostrongylus axei, Nematodirus maculosus and N. helvetianus (the latter 2 found in the small intestines). Also tapeworms seem to be an endoparasite that have affected goats in South Dakota. (Boddicker, et al., 1971)
Mountain goat hunting is very challenging due to the habitat the goats inhabit.
It has been reported that in places of high mountain goat populations, they cause destruction to plant populations native to that region. This has become a big concern at Olympic and Yellowstone National Parks. Mountain goats are not native to those areas, and are considered an exotic species there. Like other exotic species there is concern about mountain goats bringing in new diseases that will infect native organisms from these areas. (Lemke, 2004)
Because the number of mountain goats has been relatively stable, they are not in any danger of extinction. Some areas, like Yellowstone National Park, have allowed hunters to hunt under controlled conditions to reduce the number of mountain goats. Hunting is not allowed in any places where mountain goats are declining in number, like Cascade Mountains of Washington. Goats in this region are being tagged with GPS collars to track their progress, and find out why their numbers are slowly declining. (Lemke, 2004; Rice, 2003)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Julie Fitch (author), Radford University, Brandi Guilliams (author), Radford University, Whitney Mowbray (author), Radford University, Allen Patton (author), Radford University, Sean Gloss (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor, instructor), Radford University.
Eric J. Ellis (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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Rice, C. 2003. "Mountain Goat Research in the Washington Cascade Mountains" (On-line pdf). Accessed August 28, 2007 at http://wdfw.wa.gov/science/articles/mtn_goats/mtn_goat_prog_rpt.pdf.
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