Musk deer can refer to any one, or all seven, of the species that make up Moschus, the only extant genus of the family Moschidae. The musk deer family differs from cervids, or true deer, by lacking antlers and facial glands and by possessing only a single pair of teats, a gallbladder, a caudal gland, a pair of tusk-like teeth and—of particular economic importance to humans—a musk gland.
Musk deer live mainly in forested and alpine scrub habitats in the mountains of southern Asia, notably the Himalayas. Moschids, the proper term when referring to this type of deer rather than one/multiple species of musk deer, are entirely Asian in their present distribution, being extinct in Europe where the earliest musk deer are known to have existed from Oligocene deposits.
Musk deer resemble small deer with a stocky build, and hind legs longer than their front legs. They are about 80 to 100 cm (31 to 39 in) long, 50 to 70 cm (20 to 28 in) high at the shoulder, and weigh between 7 and 17 kg (15 and 37 lb). The feet of musk deer are adapted for climbing in rough terrain. Like the Chinese water deer, a cervid, they have no antlers, but the males do have enlarged upper canines, forming sabre-like tusks. The dental formula is similar to that of true deer: 0.1.3.3
Musk deer are herbivores, living in hilly, forested environments, generally far from human habitation. Like true deer, they eat mainly leaves, flowers, and grasses, with some mosses and lichens. They are solitary animals, and maintain well-defined territories, which they scent mark with their caudal glands. Musk deer are generally shy, and either nocturnal, or crepuscular.
Males leave their territories during the rutting season, and compete for mates, using their tusks as weapons. Female musk deer give birth to a single fawn after about 150–180 days. The newborn young are very small, and essentially motionless for the first month of their lives, a feature that helps them remain hidden from predators.
Musk deer have been hunted for their scent glands, which are commonly used in perfumes. The glands can fetch up to $45,000/kg on the black market. It is rumored that ancient royalty wore the scent of the musk deer and that it is an aphrodisiac.
Musk deer may be a surviving representative of the Palaeomerycidae, a family of ruminants that is probably ancestral to deer. They originated in the early Oligocene epoch and disappeared in the Pliocene. Most species lacked antlers, though some were found in later species. The musk deer are, however, still placed in a separate family.
While they have been traditionally classified as members of the deer family (as the subfamily "Moschinae") and all the species were classified as one species (under Moschus moschiferus), recent studies have indicated that moschids are more closely related to bovids (antelope, goat-antelope and wild cattle). The following taxonomy is after Prothero (2007)
- Hydropotopsis lemanensis
- Hispanomeryx aragonensis
- Hispanomeryx daamsi
- Hispanomeryx duriensis
- Hispanomeryx andrewsi
- Oriomeryx major
- Oriomeryx willii
- Friburgomeryx wallenriedensis
- Bedenomeryx truyolsi
- Bedenomeryx milloquensis
- Bedenomeryx paulhiacensis
- Pomelomeryx boulangeri
- Pomelomeryx gracilis
- Dremotherium cetinensis
- Dremotherium guthi
- Dremotherium quercyi
- Dremotherium feignouxi
- "Moschus (musk deer) Classification". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
- Frädrich H (1984). "Deer". In Macdonald D (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 518–9. ISBN 978-0-87196-871-5.
- Wild Russia, Discovery Channel
- Hassanin A, Douzery EJ (April 2003). "Molecular and morphological phylogenies of ruminantia and the alternative position of the moschidae". Systematic Biology. 52 (2): 206–28. doi:10.1080/10635150390192726. PMID 12746147.
- Prothero DR (November 2007). Evolution: what the fossils say and why it matters. Columbia University Press. pp. 221–226.
- Aiglstorfer M, Costeur L, Mennecart B, Heizmann EP (2017). "Micromeryx? eiselei-A new moschid species from Steinheim am Albuch, Germany, and the first comprehensive description of moschid cranial material from the Miocene of Central Europe". PLOS ONE. 12 (10): e0185679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185679. PMC 5642927. PMID 29036194.