Only the mature male Moschus produces musk. The substance occurs in only one location on the deer’s body: on its abdomen, just in front of its penis, is a hairy pouch known as the musk gland. This sac is about the size of a golf ball. It is composed of several layers of skin, with two openings immediately above the animal’s urethra.
In the early summer, unripe liquid musk drains into the gland from the surrounding tissues, and is stored there for some weeks or months. During the course of this time, the musk – 30 grams of it or so – “matures” into a granular, waxy, reddish-brown substance with an extremely potent and familiar smell.
When the musk has ripened – shortly before the autumn rutting season – the deer begin to discharge it mixed with their urine, apparently to mark their territory and attract females. (This behavior is familiar to anyone who has come in contact with a tomcat that “sprays.”) Even in winter, male musk deer have been reported to leave behind fragrant red snow, rather than yellow.
raw material for the traditional Chinese medicine
Musk, a strong-smelling secretion produced by the glands of Asia’s musk deer, has been used in perfumes and the traditional medicine of China and its neighbors for 5,000 years or more.
It is estimated that musk is currently being used in as many as 400 Chinese traditional remedies, making it one of the most common and most valuable medicinal products to come from an animal.