Mountain Goats

January 8, 2001

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A Goat's Life
A mountain goat's choice of habitat makes it particularly unique. A goat lives in locations where many other big game animals cannot survive. Not only do goats live in what we would consider a hostile environment, but they stay there year around.

Unlike other animals that migrate to lower territory, or hibernate to survive in the winter, Mountain goats do not leave their "comfortable" homes. They may travel downhill a bit to get to areas with warmer temperatures. For this same reason Mountain goats prefer the south facing slopes in the winter.

Warmer temperatures mean less snowfall and more frequent melting of the snow. Food is more accessible for them in these warmer areas, as well.

Check out where you can find Mountain Goats in Idaho

How do Mountain goats get around in their rugged environment?Mountain Goat in the Wintertime The secret is in their hooves. The hooves of goats have hard outer shells and rubbery, concave (rounded inward) footpads which act like suction cups when weight is applied. This feature helps goats get around in its vertical environment with ease and agility. One false step in this terrain can mean a broken leg, or even death, so sure footing is a must.

Mountain Goat

On Your Toes

Goat toes spread giving the track a square shape with a V in front. Goats tend to drag their feet creating a trough between prints. This is particularly noticeable in the snow.

Short, sturdy legs and a heavy-set body also aid goats in agility and balance.

A goat's hooves: Secret to survival

mountain goat tracks
The tracks of a mountain goat are 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches long.
True Story
Mountain goats have been known to leap 10 feet from one ledge to another, and turn around on a platform that is only inches wide.

Mountain goats can also pull themselves up from ledge to ledge with just their front feet.

Mountain goats have slender, pointed horns that extend up and away from their long, narrow faces. Goat horns grow continuously and are never shed, unlike the antlers of elk, deer and moose.

Goat at the salt lickA Mountain goat's horns tell us the age of a goat similar to the way the rings of a tree or the scales of a fish do. Seasonal rings are formed on goat's horns each year. The horns of a mountain goat will have one less ring than its age. So, the horn of a goat that is two years old will have one ring, a three year old will have two rings and so on.

Females have a noticeable curve at the tip of their horns while males have a gradual curve along the entire length. Black glands, found in a crescent at the base of each horn, are used to scent mark. Although goats possess this gland, marking their territory with the scent is not very significant to them.

Nanny and Billy in the spring time
A Goat's Coat
Mountain goats don't have to worry about the cold. During the winter two layers of fur keep them warm. The fur close to their bodies is like the soft wool of a sheep; it provides a base layer of insulation.

Goats shedding in springLong thick hairs, called guard hairs, cover the woolly fur. Guard hairs protect the goat's body from wind, rain, and snow. These features help the goat to handle the bitter cold weather of the places they call home.

By late spring mountain goats start to shed their winter coats. Their heavy fur comes off in chunks, making them look extremely ragged. They will rub against bushes and trees leaving behind fluffy balls of fur.

Mountain goat
Wintertime Survival
Although goats usually don't have to worry about the cold, conserving energy in the winter is critical for goats. Repeated disturbances can stress animals and decrease their chances for survival.

Wildlife managers encourage you to view them from a distance. A goat's lifespan is about 11 years. Some old mountain goats will starve to death because their teeth wear down and they are no longer able to chew their food. Injuries from falling are more common as mountain goats get older, too.

Mountain goats do not have a lot of predators. They live in an area that makes it difficult for predators, who have a hard time chasing a mountain goat up a steep cliff. The most common predator is the mountain lion. Golden Eagles occasionally snatch up a kid.

Some people hunt mountain goats for their meat and for trophies. We have to remember, though, that the somewhat hostile environment that the goat lives in protects it from enemies who would rather not go there.

As long as habitat is plentiful, the goat will survive.

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