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            Home | Ungulates | About Us | Glossary | Links | Search | Contact Us
            An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
            Subfamily Bovinae
            Cattle, spiral-horned antelope, and nilgai
            The bovines represent an early offshoot of the Bovid lineage, diverging from the Aegodontids approximately 25 million years ago. Based on fossil evidence, the Bovinae appear to have arisen in Asia, with the first fossils appearing around 18.5 million years ago. Perhaps because of the cooler Eurasian climates, the modern Bovinae have attained a larger body size than any other bovid subfamily: many species weigh over 200 kg, with several tipping the scales at over 500 kg.

            There is significant sexual dimorphism in this subfamily: in some species, males may weigh twice as much as females. Horns are found in the males of all species. Females of the tribe Bovini also grow horns (as do three species within the Tragelaphini), but the horns are noticeably smaller and thinner than those of males. The horns of both sexes are smooth (there are no annulations present, although in some species the horns are keeled). There are no facial or pedal glands, but a unique scent gland is found between the dewclaws of the hind feet in all members of this subfamily.

            There are three traditionally recognized tribes in the family Bovinae:

            1. Bovini - bison, buffalo, and cattle
            2. Boselaphini - nilgai and chousingha
            3. Tragelaphini - spiral-horned antelope

              The 1993 discovery of the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) has resulted in the creation of a fourth Bovine tribe (included within the Bovini by some authors):
            4. Pseudorygini - saola

            Some authors recognize the Tragelaphini as a separate Bovid subfamily (Tragelaphinae), including separate tribes for the spiral-horned antelopes (Tragelaphini), nilgai (Boselaphini), and chousingha (Tetracerini), although molecular evidence does not support such a distinction.

            Many bovine species have been domesticated by humans. Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) are now found worldwide and are raised for meat, leather, and milk production, as well as being used as beasts of burden. Other domesticated bovines include the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), yak (Bos grunniens), Bali cattle (descended from Banteng, Bos javanicus), and gayal (from gaur, Bos frontalis). Several attempts to domesticate eland (Taurotragus oryx) for milk and meat achieved small-scale success.

            The Bovinae Family Tree
            Branch lengths are not proportional to time
            (From Hernandez-Fernandez and Vrba, 2005)


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            Boselaphus tragocamelus

            Tetracerus quadricornis

            Tragelaphus imberbis

            Tragelaphus angasii

            Tragelaphus scriptus

            Tragelaphus spekii

            Tragelaphus eurycerus

            Tragelaphus strepsiceros

            Tragelaphus buxtoni

            Tragelaphus derbianus

            Tragelaphus oryx

            Pseudoryx nghetinhensis

            Syncerus caffer

            Bubalus arnee

            Bubalus mindorensis

            Bubalus depressicornis

            Bubalus quarlesi

            Bos gaurus

            Bos javanicus

            Bos sauveli

            Bos primigenius

            Bos mutus

            Bison bison

            Bison bonasus

            Click on the species above to learn more,
            or jump to the Bovinae Species List
            Literature Cited

            Estes, R. D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

            Hernandez-Fernandez, M., and E. S. Vrba. 2005. A complete estimate of the phylogenetic relationships in Ruminantia: a dated species-level supertree of the extant ruminants. Biological Review; 80: 269-302.

            Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. London and New York: Academic Press, NaturalWorld.