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            Home | Ungulates | About Us | Glossary | Links | Search | Contact Us
            An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
            Subfamily Caprinae
            Sheep, goats, and relatives
            The Caprinae is one of the most successful bovid subfamilies, with 35 currently recognized species found in mountainous regions across Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. Their success is due to a generalized form with specializations for montane habitats, a combination which confers flexibility within the alpine biome. The Caprinae tend to be medium-sized ungulates, with a compact form, thick legs, a sure-footed nature, and tolerance of extremes in temperature which occur in mountainous environments.

            The Caprinae diverged from the other Aegodontia in the early Miocene, appearing in the Eurasian fossil record 18-15 million years ago. The Caprinae were excluded from the Eurasian lowland habitats by the dominant Cervidae (deer), but were able to fill a specific niche in alpine habitats. The prevalence of mountains throughout Europe and Asia provided the perfect setting for the rapid evolution of the Caprinae during the late Miocene. The lack of alpine habitat in Africa (and the abundance of mountains in Eurasia) explains why this is the only bovid subfamily to be significantly more diverse in Eurasia than Africa.

            Despite being nested deeply within the Aegodontia, the Caprinae is the only subfamily which is not seen as containing "antelope" (with the exception of the chiru or Tibetan antelope, Pantholops hodgsonii); in an attempt to correct this, some authors chose to describe the members of this subfamily as "goat antelope".

            There are four currently recognized tribes in this subfamily:

            1. Pantholopini - chiru
            2. Ovibovini - musk ox and takin
            3. Rupicaprini - gorals, serows, and chamois
            4. Caprini - sheep, goats, and tahrs

            The position of the chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii) has only recently been resolved. Formerly, this species was thought to ally closely with the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) in the tribe Saigini, forming a putative link between gazelles (Antilopinae) and goats (Caprinae). However, molecular testing has determined that Saiga is distinctly antelopine, while Pantholops is distinctly goat-like. Some authors consider the chiru to be distinct enough to warrant placing it in a separate subfamily, the Pantholopinae.

            Generally both sexes of the Caprinae bear horns (except in the tribe Pantholopini, where they are only found in males). There is extreme sexual dimorphism in the Caprini - this is especially prevalent in the size and shape of the horns. The other tribes show very few differences between the sexes with regard to size, coloration, and horn size.

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

             

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            Bovidae

            Pantholops hodgsonii

            Naemorhedus baileyi

            Naemorhedus caudatus

            Naemorhedus goral

            Naemorhedus griseus

            Capricornis sumatraensis

            Capricornis milneedwardsii

            Capricornis rubidus

            Capricornis thar

            Capricornis swinhoei

            Capricornis crispus

            Oreamnos americanus

            Rupicapra pyrenaica

            Rupicapra rupicapra

            Budorcas taxicolor

            Ovibos moschatus

            Nilgiritragus hylocrius

            Ovis ammon

            Ovis orientalis

            Ovis nivicola

            Ovis canadensis

            Ovis dalli

            Ammotragus lervia

            Arabitragus jayakari

            Pseudois nayaur

            Pseudois schaeferi

            Hemitragus jemlahicus

            Capra walie

            Capra sibirica

            Capra ibex

            Capra nubiana

            Capra falconeri

            Capra aegagrus

            Capra cylindricornis

            Capra caucasica

            Capra pyrenaica

            Click on the species above to learn more,
            or jump to the Caprinae 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. Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

            Ropiquet, A., and A. Hassanin. 2005. Molecular evidence for the polyphyly of the genus Hemitragus (Mammalia, Bovidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution; 36: 154-168.

            Vrba, E. S., and G. B. Schaller. 2000. Phylogeny of Bovidae based on behavior, glands, skulls, and postcrania. In Antelopes, Deer, and Relatives. Edited by E.S.Vrba and G.B.Schaller. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. pp. 203-222.

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