Although called a goat, mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) are actually a member of the animal family that includes cows, antelopes and gazelles. Its genus, Oreamnos, roughly translates to “mountain lamb”, which makes sense given the high altitude at which these animals live. Found exclusively in the high mountain ranges of western North America, mountain goats spend most of their time at heights far out of the range of most predators and are excellent climbers.
Mountain goats are white in color with a noticeable beard and rearward-curving horns on both sexes. They have a double coat that includes a dense under layer covered with an outer coat of hollow hairs that moult in the spring. This thick outer coat allows them to withstand temperatures as low as -50 degrees F and 100mph winds. For as sure-footed as they are, mountain goats are quite large. They usually stand over 3 feet at the shoulders, and weigh anywhere from 100-300lbs.
Mountain goats spend much of their time on mountainsides above the tree line foraging for grass, herbs, moss and lichen that grow at high altitudes. Male mountain goats, called billies, usually travel in small groups of 2-3 individuals, while the females, called nannies, live in herds of around 50 animals.
Due to their imposing size and the high altitudes at which they live, mature mountain goats are not easy prey. Though they do have to be wary of wolves, cougars, and bears, especially when traveling between peaks at lower altitudes, the biggest threat of predation comes from golden eagles, which have been known to attack young goat kids.
Mating season for these animals occurs from October to December, at which time the small billie groups will come together with nannie herds to compete with each other for mating rights. Nannies give birth to their young, called kids, the next spring. Kids are able to walk and climb within a few hours of birth and will continue to follow and live with their mothers until they gives birth again.
MOUNTAIN GOAT FACTS
- Some mountain goats live at elevations that exceed 13,000 feet.
- Mountain goats have dewclaws behind their hooves to help reduce slipping on steep surfaces.
Blue Planet Biomes
United States National Park Service