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HISTORY & PREHISTORY

Mountain Goats

Mountain goats at Glacier National Park

The mountain goat is not a true goat. Its "beard" is not the true chin beard of male goats, but an extension of a throat mane. Both the male and female mountain goats have these "beards" as well as horns. Mountain goats stand about 3 to 4 feet at the shoulder and can weigh 150 to 300 pounds.

These massive, strong animals are great climbers with thick fur and layers of fat to keep them warm. Their thick woolly coats are white to an off-yellow hue and are shed each summer. Mountain goats look like they're wearing bloomers! All their long woolly fur stops at a line just below the knees, where the legs are covered with a much shorter fur.

Mountain goat

The mountain goat is a mountain top survivor! Mountain goats inhabit rocky mountainous areas way above the timberline. Freezing temperatures, lots of snow, and rocky cliffs all mean they have picked a pretty rough place to live. But mountain goats use the terrain to their advantage. High on rocky peaks, these animals are safe from most predators.

Avalanches and rockslides account for many more mountain goat deaths than predation. Eagles may occasionally try to attack a mountain goat in its mountaintop home by pushing a newborn kid off a cliff, but most predators arenít equipped to navigate the dangerous, rocky terrain of the mountain goatís home. Carnivores such as the mountain lion may attack the mountain goat as it descends into a valley, but the goat's sharp hooves make it dangerous prey.

Mountain goat kid

Sure-footed and agile, a mountain goat can easily travel up mountain peaks and along narrow ledges at a walk or trot. From a distance it may seem to move across the face of an almost sheer cliff. Its hooves are well adapted for rocky peaks, with its hooves with cushioned skid-proof pads for grip on steep or smooth surfaces.

These majestic animals typically have twin kids, which are born in early summer, May or June. The kid, usually born on a mountain ledge, can stand and climb shortly after birth. For the first few months, the kids will drink only its mother milk. Later, like all the grown-ups, it will eat alpine grasses, lichens and almost any variety of shrub or tree. The kid remains with its mother until the next year's young is born.

On warm days, mountain goats will curl up and relax on a patch of snow, in a shady spot, or on a mountain ledge. They live in small flocks, but tend to be solitary in summer and autumn. In Montana, they are often observed in Glacier National Park, Gates of the Mountains and various places along the Rocky Mountain Front.

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