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Temporal range: 20–0  Ma
Early Miocene   present
Example Bovidae (clockwise from top left) – addax (Addax nasomaculatus), domestic cattle (Bos taurus), mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella), impala (Aepyceros melampus), blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), and mouflon (Ovis gmelini)
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Pecora
Superfamily: Bovoidea
Family: Bovidae
Gray, 1821
Type genus

Alternate taxonomy:

The Bovidae comprise the biological family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes cattle, yaks, bison, buffalo, antelopes (including goat-antelopes), sheep and goats. A member of this family is called a bovid. With 143 extant species and 300 known extinct species, the family Bovidae consists of 11 (or two) major subfamilies and thirteen major tribes. The family evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene.


The bovids show great variation in size and pelage colouration. Except some domesticated forms, all male bovids have two or more horns, and in many species, females possess horns, too. The size and shape of the horns vary greatly, but the basic structure is always one or more pairs of simple bony protrusions without branches, often having a spiral, twisted or fluted form, each covered in a permanent sheath of keratin. Most bovids bear 30 to 32 teeth.

Most bovids are diurnal. Social activity and feeding usually peak during dawn and dusk. Bovids typically rest before dawn, during midday, and after dark. They have various methods of social organisation and social behaviour, which are classified into solitary and gregarious behaviour. Bovids use different forms of vocal, olfactory, and tangible communication. Most species alternately feed and ruminate throughout the day. While small bovids forage in dense and closed habitat, larger species feed on high-fiber vegetation in open grasslands. Most bovids are polygynous. Mature bovids mate at least once a year and smaller species may even mate twice. In some species, neonate bovids remain hidden for a week to two months, regularly nursed by their mothers; in other species, neonates are followers, accompanying their dams, rather than tending to remain hidden.

The greatest diversities of bovids occur in Africa. The maximum concentration of species is in the savannas of Eastern Africa. Other bovid species also occur in Europe, Asia, and North America. Bovidae includes three of the five domesticated mammals whose use has spread outside their original ranges, namely cattle, sheep, and goats. Dairy products, such as milk, butter, and cheese, are manufactured largely from domestic cattle. Bovids are also raised for their leather, meat, and wool.

Naming and etymology

The name "Bovidae" was given by the British zoologist John Edward Gray in 1821. [1] The word "Bovidae" is the combination of the prefix bov- (originating from Latin bos, "ox", through Late Latin bovinus) and the suffix -idae. [2]


The family Bovidae is placed in the order Artiodactyla (which includes the even-toed ungulates). It includes 143 extant species, accounting for nearly 55% of the ungulates, and 300 known extinct species. [3]

Until the beginning of the 21st century it was understood that the family Moschidae (musk deer) was sister to Cervidae. However, a 2003 phylogenetic study by Alexandre Hassanin (of National Museum of Natural History, France) and colleagues, based on mitochondrial and nuclear analyses, revealed that Moschidae and Bovidae form a clade sister to Cervidae. According to the study, Cervidae diverged from the Bovidae-Moschidae clade 27 to 28 million years ago. [4] The following cladogram is based on the 2003 study. [4]


Tragulidae Tragulus napu - 1818-1842 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam - (white background).jpg


Antilocapridae Antilocapra white background.jpg

Giraffidae Giraffa camelopardalis Brockhaus white background.jpg

Cervidae The deer of all lands (1898) Hangul white background.png

Moschidae Moschus chrysogaster white background.jpg

Bovidae Birds and nature (1901) (14562088237) white background.jpg

Molecular studies have supported monophyly in the family Bovidae (a group of organisms comprises an ancestral species and all their descendants). [5] [6] The number of subfamilies in Bovidae is disputed, with suggestions of as many as ten and as few as two subfamilies. [6] However, molecular, morphological and fossil evidence indicates the existence of eight distinct subfamilies: Aepycerotinae (consisting of just the impala), Alcelaphinae (bontebok, hartebeest, wildebeest and relatives), Antilopinae (several antelopes, gazelles, and relatives), Bovinae (cattle, buffaloes, bison and other antelopes), Caprinae (goats, sheep, ibex, serows and relatives), Cephalophinae (duikers), Hippotraginae (addax, oryx and relatives) and Reduncinae (reedbuck and kob antelopes). In addition, three extinct subfamilies are known: Hypsodontinae (mid-Miocene), Oiocerinae (Turolian) and the subfamily Tethytraginae, which contains Tethytragus (mid-Miocene). [7] [8]

In 1992, Alan W. Gentry of the Natural History Museum, London divided the eight major subfamilies of Bovidae into two major clades on the basis of their evolutionary history: the Boodontia, which comprised only the Bovinae, and the Aegodontia, which consisted of the rest of the subfamilies. Boodonts have somewhat primitive teeth, resembling those of oxen, whereas aegodonts have more advanced teeth like those of goats. [9]

A controversy exists about the recognition of Peleinae and Pantholopinae, comprising the genera Pelea and Pantholops respectively, as subfamilies. In 2000, American biologist George Schaller and palaeontologist Elisabeth Vrba suggested the inclusion of Pelea in Reduncinae, [10] though the grey rhebok, the sole species of Pelea , is highly different from kobs and reduncines in morphology. [11] Pantholops , earlier classified in the Antilopinae, was later placed in its own subfamily, Pantholopinae. However, molecular and morphological analysis supports the inclusion of Pantholops in Caprinae. [12]

Below is a cladogram based on Yang et al., 2013 and Calamari, 2021: [13] [14] [15]

Boodontia (Bovinae)

Bovini (bison, buffalo, cattle, etc.) Birds and nature (1901) (14562088237) white background.jpg

Boselaphini (nilgai and four-horned antelope) Haeckel Antilopina Tetracerus quadricornis.jpg

Tragelaphini (kudus, nyalas etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Tragelaphus angasi white background.png


Aepycerotinae (impala) The book of antelopes (1894) Aepyceros melampus white backround.png

Nesotraginae (suni and bates's antelope)

Antilopinae (gazelles, springbok, dik-dik, royal antelope, saiga, etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Gazella thomsoni white background.png

Cephalophinae (duikers etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Cephalophus natalensis white background.png

Oreotraginae (klipspringer)

Reduncinae (kobs, reedbucks, waterbucks etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Cobus defassa white background.png

Caprinae (chamois, sheep, ibexes, goats, muskox, etc.) Walia ibex illustration white background.png

Alcelaphinae (hartebeest, topi, wildebeest etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Bubalis busephalus white backround.png

Hippotraginae (sable antelopes, oryxes etc.) The book of antelopes (1894) Hippotragus niger I white background.png

Alternatively, all members of the Aegodontia, can be classified within the subfamily Antilopinae, with the individual subfamilies being tribes in this treatment. [14] [15]


Early Miocene and before

Skull of Eotragus sansaniensis, a species of the ancient bovid genus Eotragus Eotragus sansaniensis.JPG
Skull of Eotragus sansaniensis, a species of the ancient bovid genus Eotragus

In the early Miocene, bovids began diverging from the cervids (deer) and giraffids. The earliest bovids, whose presence in Africa and Eurasia in the latter part of early Miocene (20 Mya) has been ascertained, were small animals, somewhat similar to modern gazelles, and probably lived in woodland environments. [16] Eotragus , the earliest known bovid, weighed 18 kg (40 lb) and was nearly the same in size as the Thomson's gazelle. [17] Early in their evolutionary history, the bovids split into two main clades: Boodontia (of Eurasian origin) and Aegodontia (of African origin). This early split between Boodontia and Aegodontia has been attributed to the continental divide between these land masses. When these continents were later rejoined, this barrier was removed, and both groups expanded into the territory of the other. [18] The tribes Bovini and Tragelaphini diverged in the early Miocene. [19] Bovids are known to have reached the Americas in the Pleistocene by crossing the Bering land bridge. [17]

The present genera of Alcelaphinae appeared in the Pliocene. The extinct Alcelaphine genus Paramularius, which was the same in size as the hartebeest, is believed to have come into being in the Pliocene, but became extinct in the middle Pleistocene. [6] Several genera of Hippotraginae are known since the Pliocene and Pleistocene. This subfamily appears to have diverged from the Alcelaphinae in the latter part of early Miocene. [19] The Bovinae are believed to have diverged from the rest of the Bovidae in the early Miocene. [20] The Boselaphini became extinct in Africa in the early Pliocene; their latest fossils were excavated in Langebaanweg (South Africa) and Lothagam (Kenya). [21]

Middle Miocene

The middle Miocene marked the spread of the bovids into China and the Indian subcontinent. [17] According to Vrba, the radiation of the subfamily Alcelaphinae began in the latter part of middle Miocene. [6] The Caprinae tribes probably diverged in the early middle Miocene. The Caprini emerged in the middle Miocene, and seem to have been replaced by other bovids and cervids in Eurasia. [22] The earliest fossils of the antilopines are from the middle Miocene, though studies show the existence of the subfamily from the early Miocene. Speciation occurred in the tribe Antilopini during the middle or upper Miocene, mainly in Eurasia. Tribe Neotragini seems to have appeared in Africa by the end of Miocene, and had become widespread by the Pliocene. [19]

Late Miocene

By the late Miocene, around 10 Mya, the bovids rapidly diversified, leading to the creation of 70 new genera. [17] This late Miocene radiation was partly because many bovids became adapted to more open, grassland habitats. [16] The Aepycerotinae first appeared in the late Miocene, and no significant difference in the sizes of the primitive and modern impala has been noted. [23] Fossils of ovibovines, a tribe of Caprinae, in Africa date back to the late Miocene. [19] The earliest Hippotragine fossils date back to the late Miocene, and were excavated from sites such as Lothagam and Awash Valley. [19] The first African fossils of Reduncinae date back to 6-7 Mya. [24] Reduncinae and Peleinae probably diverged in the mid-Miocene. [6]


Bovids have unbranched horns. Serengeti Bueffel2.jpg
Bovids have unbranched horns.

All bovids have the similar basic form - a snout with a blunt end, one or more pairs of horns (generally present on males) immediately after the oval or pointed ears, a distinct neck and limbs, and a tail varying in length and bushiness among the species. [25] Most bovids exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males usually larger as well as heavier than females. Sexual dimorphism is more prominent in medium- to large-sized bovids. All bovids have four toes on each foot – they walk on the central two (the hooves), while the outer two (the dewclaws) are much smaller and rarely touch the ground. [3]

The bovids show great variation in size: the gaur can weigh more than 1,500 kg (3,300 lb), and stand 2.2 m (87 in) high at the shoulder. [26] The royal antelope, in sharp contrast, is only 25 cm (9.8 in) tall and weighs at most 3 kg (6.6 lb). [27] The klipspringer, another small antelope, stands 45–60 cm (18–24 in) at the shoulder and weighs just 10–20 kg (22–44 lb). [28]

Differences occur in pelage colouration, ranging from a pale white (as in the Arabian oryx) [29] to black (as in the black wildebeest). [30] However, only the intermediate shades, such as brown and reddish brown (as in the reedbuck), are commonly observed. [31] In several species, females and juveniles exhibit a light-coloured coat, while those of males darken with age. As in the wildebeest, the coat may be marked with prominent or faint stripes. In some species such as the addax, the coat colour can vary by the season. [32] Scent glands and sebaceous glands are often present. [25]

The gemsbok has conspicuous markings on its face, which conceal the eye, and on its legs. These may have a role in communication. Oryx gazella male 8054 b.jpg
The gemsbok has conspicuous markings on its face, which conceal the eye, and on its legs. These may have a role in communication.

Some species, such as the gemsbok, sable antelope, and Grant's gazelle, are camouflaged with strongly disruptive facial markings that conceal the highly recognisable eye. [34] Many species, such as gazelles, may be made to look flat, and hence to blend into the background, by countershading. [35] The outlines of many bovids are broken up with bold disruptive colouration, the strongly contrasting patterns helping to delay recognition by predators. [36] However, all the Hippotraginae (including the gemsbok) have pale bodies and faces with conspicuous markings. The zoologist Tim Caro describes this as difficult to explain, but given that the species are diurnal, he suggests that the markings may function in communication. Strongly contrasting leg colouration is common only in the Bovidae, where for example Bos, Ovis, bontebok and gemsbok have white stockings. Again, communication is the likely function. [33]

Excepting some domesticated forms, all male bovids have horns, and in many species, females, too, possess horns. The size and shape of the horns vary greatly, but the basic structure is a pair of simple bony protrusions without branches, often having a spiral, twisted, or fluted form, each covered in a permanent sheath of keratin. Although horns occur in a single pair on almost all bovid species, there are exceptions such as the four-horned antelope [37] and the Jacob sheep. [38] [39] The unique horn structure is the only unambiguous morphological feature of bovids that distinguishes them from other pecorans. [40] [41] A high correlation exists between horn morphology and fighting behaviour of the individual. For instance, long horns are intended for wrestling and fencing, whereas curved horns are used in ramming. [42] Males with horns directed inwards are monogamous and solitary, while those with horns directed outwards tend to be polygynous. These results were independent of body size. [43]

Male horn development has been linked to sexual selection, [44] [45] Horns are small spikes in the monogamous duikers and other small antelopes, whereas in the polygynous, they are large and elaborately formed (for example in a spiral structure, as in the giant eland). Thus, to some extent, horns depict the degree of competition among males in a species. [31] However, the presence of horns in females is likely due to natural selection. [44] [46] The horns of females are usually smaller than those of males, and are sometimes of a different shape. The horns of female bovids are believed to have evolved for defence against predators or to express territoriality, as nonterritorial females, which are able to use crypsis for predator defence, often do not have horns. [46] Females possess horns only in half of the bovid genera, and females in these genera are heavier than those in the rest. Females use horns mainly for stabbing. [47]


American bison skeleton (Museum of Osteology) American Bison skeleton.jpg
American bison skeleton (Museum of Osteology)

In bovids, the third and fourth metapodials are combined into the cannon bone. The ulna and fibula are reduced, and fused with the radius and tibia, respectively. Long scapulae are present, whereas the clavicles are absent. Being ruminants, the stomach is composed of four chambers: the rumen (80%), the omasum, the reticulum, and the abomasum. The ciliates and bacteria of the rumen ferment the complex cellulose into simpler fatty acids, which are then absorbed through the rumen wall. Bovids have a long small intestine; the length of the small intestine in cattle is 29–49 m (95–161 ft). Body temperature fluctuates through the day; for instance, in goats the temperature can change slightly from nearly 37 °C (99 °F) in the early morning to 40 °C (104 °F) in the afternoon. Temperature is regulated through sweating in cattle, whereas goats use panting for the same. The right lung, consisting of four to five lobes, is around 1.5 times larger than the left, which has three lobes. [3] [25]


Dental pad of a domestic bovid: Note the absence of upper incisors and canines and the outward projection of the lower teeth. Dental pad 001.jpg
Dental pad of a domestic bovid: Note the absence of upper incisors and canines and the outward projection of the lower teeth.

Most bovids bear 30 to 32 teeth. [31] While the upper incisors are absent, the upper canines are either reduced or absent. Instead of the upper incisors, bovids have a thick and tough layer of tissue, called the dental pad, that provides a surface to grip grasses and foliage. They are hypsodont and selenodont, since the molars and premolars are low-crowned and crescent-shaped cusps. The lower incisors and canines project forward. The incisors are followed by a long toothless gap, known as the diastema. [48] The general dental formula for bovids is 0.0.2- Most members of the family are herbivorous, but most duikers are omnivorous. Like other ruminants, bovids have four-chambered stomachs, which allow them to digest plant material, such as grass, that cannot be used by many other animals. Ruminants (and some others like kangaroos, rabbits, and termites) are able to use micro-organisms living in their guts to break down cellulose by fermentation. [3]

Ecology and behaviour

Blackbuck antelopes Blackbuck male female.jpg
Blackbuck antelopes
A Gayal bull from India and Burma Gayal.jpg
A Gayal bull from India and Burma

The bovids have various methods of social organisation and social behaviour, which are classified into solitary and gregarious behaviour. Further, these types may each be divided into territorial and nonterritorial behaviour. [31] Small bovids such as the klipspringer, oribi, and steenbok are generally solitary and territorial. They hold small territories into which other members of the species are not allowed to enter. These antelopes form monogamous pairs. Many species such as the dik-dik use pheromone secretions from the preorbital glands and sometimes dung, as well, to mark their territories. [49] The offspring disperse at the time of adolescence, and males must acquire territories prior to mating. [3] The bushbuck is the only bovid that is both solitary and not territorial. This antelope hardly displays aggression, and tends to isolate itself or form loose herds, though in a favourable habitat, several bushbuck may be found quite close to one another. [50]

Excluding the cephalophines (duikers), tragelaphines (spiral-horned antelopes) and the neotragines, most African bovids are gregarious and territorial. Males are forced to disperse on attaining sexual maturity, and must form their own territories, while females are not required to do so. Males that do not hold territories form bachelor herds. Competition takes place among males to acquire dominance, and fights tend to be more rigorous in limited rutting seasons. With the exception of migratory males, males generally hold the same territory throughout their lives. [31] In the waterbuck, some male individuals, known as "satellite males", may be allowed into the territories of other males and have to wait till the owner grows old so they may acquire his territory. [51] Lek mating, where males gather together and competitively display to potential mates, is known to exist among topis, kobs, and lechwes. [52] The tragelaphines, cattle, sheep, and goats are gregarious and not territorial. In these species, males must gain absolute dominance over all other males, and fights are not confined to territories. Males, therefore, spend years in body growth. [31]


Blue wildebeest fighting for dominance 2012-wildebeest-fight.jpg
Blue wildebeest fighting for dominance

Most bovids are diurnal, although a few such as the buffalo, bushbuck, reedbuck, and grysbok are exceptions. Social activity and feeding usually peak during dawn and dusk. The bovids usually rest before dawn, during midday, and after dark. Grooming is usually by licking with the tongue. Rarely do antelopes roll in mud or dust. Wildebeest and buffalo usually wallow in mud, whereas the hartebeest and topi rub their heads and horns in mud and then smear it over their bodies. Bovids use different forms of vocal, olfactory, and tangible communication. These involve varied postures of neck, head, horns, hair, legs, and ears to convey sexual excitement, emotional state, or alarm. One such expression is the flehmen response. Bovids usually stand motionless, with the head high and an intent stare, when they sense danger. Some like the impala, kudu, and eland can even leap to heights of a few feet. [31] Bovids may roar or grunt to caution others and warn off predators. [3] Bovids such as gazelles stot or pronk in response to predators, making high leaps on stiff legs, indicating honestly both that the predator has been seen, and that the stotting individual is strong and not worth chasing. [53]

Stotting or pronking by a young springbok signals to predators such as cheetahs that it is a fit and fast individual, not worth chasing. Springbok pronk.jpg
Stotting or pronking by a young springbok signals to predators such as cheetahs that it is a fit and fast individual, not worth chasing.

In the mating season, rutting males bellow to make their presence known to females. Muskoxen roar during male-male fights, and male saigas force air through their noses, producing a roar to deter rival males and attract females. Mothers also use vocal communication to locate their calves if they get separated. During fights over dominance, males tend to display themselves in an erect posture with a level muzzle. [54] [55]

Fighting techniques differ amongst the bovid families and also depend on their build. While the hartebeest fight on knees, others usually fight on all fours. Gazelles of various sizes use different methods of combat. Gazelles usually box, and in serious fights may clash and fence, consisting of hard blows from short range. Ibex, goat and sheep males stand upright and clash into each other downwards. Wildebeest use powerful head butting in aggressive clashes. If horns become entangled, the opponents move in a circular manner to unlock them. Muskoxen will ram into each other at high speeds. As a rule, only two bovids of equal build and level of defence engage in a fight, which is intended to determine the superior of the two. Individuals that are evidently inferior to others would rather flee than fight; for example, immature males do not fight with the mature bulls. Generally, bovids direct their attacks on the opponent's head rather than its body. The S-shaped horns, such as those on the impala, have various sections that help in ramming, holding, and stabbing. Serious fights leading to injury are rare. [31] [54] [56]


Bovids are herbivores, feeding on grass, foliage, and plant products. Tatanka.jpg
Bovids are herbivores, feeding on grass, foliage, and plant products.

Most bovids alternately feed and ruminate throughout the day. While those that feed on concentrate feed and digest in short intervals, the roughage feeders take longer intervals. Only small species such as the duiker browse for a few hours during day or night. [31] Feeding habits are related to body size; while small bovids forage in dense and closed habitat, larger species feed upon high-fiber vegetation in open grasslands. Subfamilies exhibit different feeding strategies. While Bovinae species graze extensively on fresh grass and diffused forage, Cephalophinae species (with the exception of Sylvicapra ) primarily consume fruits. [3] Reduncinae and Hippotraginae species depend on unstable food sources, but the latter are specially adapted to arid areas. Members of Caprinae, being flexible feeders, forage even in areas with low productivity. Tribes Alcelaphini, Hippotragini, and Reduncini have high proportions of monocots in their diets. On the contrary, Tragelaphini and Neotragini (with the exception of Ourebia ) feed extensively on dicots. [57] No conspicuous relationship exists between body size and consumption of monocots. [58]

Sexuality and reproduction

Juvenile sheep (lamb) near its mother 2011 far 03.JPG
Juvenile sheep (lamb) near its mother

Most bovids are polygynous. In a few species, individuals are monogamous, resulting in minimal male-male aggression and reduced selection for large body size in males. Thus, sexual dimorphism is almost absent. Females may be slightly larger than males, possibly due to competition among females for the acquisition of territories. This is the case in duikers and other small bovids. [59] [60] The time taken for the attainment of sexual maturity by either sex varies broadly among bovids. Sexual maturity may even precede or follow mating. For instance, the impala males, though sexually mature by a year, can mate only after four years of age. [61] On the contrary barbary sheep females may give birth to offspring even before they have gained sexual maturity. [62] The delay in male sexual maturation is more visible in sexually dimorphic species, particularly the reduncines, probably due to competition among males. [3] For instance, the blue wildebeest females become capable of reproduction within a year or two of birth, while the males become mature only when four years old. [30]

All bovids mate at least once a year, and smaller species may even mate twice. Mating seasons occur typically during the rainy months for most bovids. As such, breeding might peak twice in the equatorial regions. The sheep and goats exhibit remarkable seasonality of reproduction, in the determination of which the annual cycle of daily photoperiod plays a pivotal role. Other factors that have a significant influence on this cycle include the temperature of the surroundings, nutritional status, social interactions, the date of parturition and the lactation period. A study of this phenomenon concluded that goats and sheep are short-day breeders. Mating in most sheep breeds begins in summer or early autumn. [63] Mating in sheep is also affected by melatonin, that advances the onset of the breeding season; [64] and thyroxine, that terminates the breeding season. [65] Estrus lasts for at most a day in bovids, with the exception of bovines and tragelaphines. Except for the hartebeest and the topi, all bovids can detect estrus in females by testing the urine using the vomeronasal organ. [31] Once the male is assured that the female is in estrus, he begins courtship displays; these displays vary greatly from the elaborate marches among gregarious species to the fervent licking of female genitalia among solitary species. Females, initially not receptive, ultimately mates with the male which has achieved dominance over others. Receptiveness is expressed by permission for mounting by the male and setting aside the tail by the female. Copulation generally takes a few seconds. [31] [59]

Gestational period varies among bovids - while duiker gestation ranges from 120 to 150 days, gestation in African buffalo ranges from 300 to 330 days. Usually, a single offspring is born (twins are less frequent), and it is able to stand and run by itself within an hour of birth. In monogamous species, males assist in defending their young, but that is not the case in polygynous species. Most newborn calves remain hidden for a week to two months, regularly nursed by their mothers. In some bovid species, the neonates start following about their mothers immediately or within a few days, as in the impala. [61] Different bovids have different strategies for the defence of juveniles. For instance, while wildebeest mothers solely defend their young, buffaloes exhibit collective defence. Weaning might occur as early as two months (as in royal antelope) or as late as a year (as in muskox). [59] [60]


Most wild bovids live for 10 to 15 years. Larger species tend to live longer; [3] for instance, American bison can live up to 25 years and gaur up to 30 years. The mean lifespan of domesticated individuals is nearly ten years. For example, domesticated goats have an average lifespan of 12 years. Usually males, mainly in polygynous species, have shorter lifespans than females. This can be attributed to several reasons: early dispersal of young males, aggressive male-male fights, vulnerability to predation (particularly when males are less agile, as in kudu), and malnutrition (being large in size, the male body has high nutritional requirements which may not be satisfied). [66] [67] Richard Despard Estes suggested that females mimic male secondary sexual characteristics like horns to protect their male offspring from dominant males. This feature seems to have been strongly selected to prevent male mortality and imbalanced sex ratios due to attacks by aggressive males and forced dispersal of young males during adolescence. [68]

Eland occur in grasslands of Africa. Eland (Taurotragus oryx) male (32300677481).jpg
Eland occur in grasslands of Africa.


Most of the diverse bovid species occur in Africa. The maximum concentration is in the savannas of eastern Africa. Depending on their feeding habits, several species have radiated over large stretches of land, and hence several variations in dental and limb morphology are observed. Duikers inhabit the equatorial rainforests, sitatunga, and lechwe occur near swamps, eland inhabit grasslands, springbok and oryx occur in deserts, bongo and anoa live in dense forests, and mountain goats and takin live at high altitudes. [31] A few bovid species also occur in Europe, Asia, and North America. Sheep and goats are found primarily in Eurasia, though the Barbary sheep and the ibex form part of the African fauna. The muskox is confined to the arctic tundra. Several bovid species have been domesticated by human beings. The domestication of goats and sheep began 10 thousand years ago, while cattle were domesticated about 7.5 thousand years ago. [3] [59]

Interaction with humans

Domesticated animals

Zebu oxen in Mumbai India.Mumbai.04.jpg
Zebu oxen in Mumbai

The domestication of bovids has contributed to shifting the dependence of human beings from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The Bovidae includes three of the six large domesticated herbivores whose use has spread outside their original ranges, namely cattle, sheep, and goats; all are from Eurasia, and are now found across the world. The other three species are the horse, donkey, and pig. Other large bovids that have been domesticated but which remain within the ranges of their wild ancestors are the domestic buffalo (from the wild water buffalo), domestic yak (from the wild yak), zebu (from the Indian aurochs), gayal (from the gaur) and Bali cattle (from the banteng). [59] Some antelopes have been domesticated including the oryxes, addax, elands and the extinct bubal hartebeest. In Ancient Egypt oryxes, addaxes and bubal hartebeests are depicted in carved walls.

The earliest evidence of cattle domestication is from 8000 BC, suggesting that the process began in Cyprus and the Euphrates basin. [69]

Animal products

Merino wool is the most valued, with great fineness and softness. Merino sheep.png
Merino wool is the most valued, with great fineness and softness.

Dairy products such as milk, butter, ghee, yoghurt, buttermilk and cheese are manufactured largely from domestic cattle, though the milk of sheep, goat, yak, and buffalo is also used in some parts of the world and for gourmet products. For example, buffalo milk is used to make mozzarella in Italy and gulab jamun dessert in India, [70] while sheep milk is used to make blue Roquefort cheese in France. [71] Beef is a food source high in zinc, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and B vitamins. [72] Bison meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, but has a higher protein content. [73]

Bovid leather is tough and durable, with the additional advantage that it can be made into leathers of varying thicknesses - from soft clothing leather to hard shoe leather. While goat and cattle leather have a wide variety of use, sheepskin is suited only for clothing purposes. [74] Wool from Merino hoggets is the finest and most valuable. Merino wool is 3–5 in (7.6–12.7 cm) long and very soft. Coarse wools, being durable and resistant to pilling, are used for making tough garments [75] and carpets.

Drinking horn made by Brynjolfur Jonsson of Skard, Iceland, 1598 Drinking Horn - Brynjolfur Jonsson of Skard, South Iceland - 1598.jpg
Drinking horn made by Brynjólfur Jónsson of Skarð, Iceland, 1598

Bone meal is an important fertilizer rich in calcium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, effective in removing soil acidity. [76] Bovid horns have been used as drinking vessels since antiquity. [77]

In human culture

Bovidae have featured in stories since at least the time of Aesop's fables from Ancient Greece around 600 BC. Fables by Aesop include The Crow and the Sheep , The Frog and the Ox , and The Wolf and the Lamb . [78] The mythological creature Chimera, depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake's head, was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and a sibling of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra. [79] The sheep, synonymous with the goat in Chinese mythology, is the eighth animal of the Chinese zodiac, and a symbol of filial piety. [80]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wildebeest</span> Genus of antelope

Wildebeest, also called gnu, are antelopes of the genus Connochaetes and native to Eastern and Southern Africa. They belong to the family Bovidae, which includes true antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, and other even-toed horned ungulates. There are two species of wildebeest: the black wildebeest or white-tailed gnu, and the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Artiodactyl</span> Order of mammals

Artiodactyls are placental mammals belonging to the order Artiodactyla. Typically, they are ungulates which bear weight equally on two of their five toes: the third and fourth, often in the form of a hoof. The other three toes are either present, absent, vestigial, or pointing posteriorly. By contrast, most perissodactyls bear weight on an odd number of the five toes. Another difference between the two is that many artiodactyls digest plant cellulose in one or more stomach chambers rather than in their intestine as perissodactyls do. The advent of molecular biology, along with new fossil discoveries, found that cetaceans fall within this taxonomic branch, being most closely related to hippopotamuses. Some modern taxonomists thus apply the name Cetartiodactyla to this group, while others opt to include cetaceans within the existing name of Artiodactyla. Some researchers use "even-toed ungulates" to exclude cetaceans and only include terrestrial artiodactyls, making the term paraphyletic in nature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antelope</span> Term referring to an even-toed ruminant

The term antelope refers to numerous extant or recently extinct species of the ruminant artiodactyl family Bovidae that are indigenous to most of Africa, India, the Middle East, Central Asia, and a small area of Eastern Europe. Antelopes do not form a monophyletic group, as some antelopes are more closely related to other bovid groups, like bovines, goats, and sheep, than to other antelopes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caprinae</span> Subfamily of mammals

The subfamily Caprinae, also sometimes referred to as the tribe Caprini, is part of the ruminant family Bovidae, and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Four-horned antelope</span> Small antelope from Asia (Tetracerus quadricornis)

The four-horned antelope, or chousingha, is a small antelope found in India and Nepal. Its four horns distinguish it from most other bovids, which have two horns. The sole member of the genus Tetracerus, the species was first described by French zoologist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1816. Three subspecies are recognised. The four-horned antelope stands nearly 55–64 centimetres (22–25 in) at the shoulder and weighs nearly 17–22 kilograms (37–49 lb). Slender with thin legs and a short tail, the four-horned antelope has a yellowish brown to reddish coat. One pair of horns is located between the ears, and the other on the forehead. The posterior horns are always longer than the anterior horns, which might be mere fur-covered studs. While the posterior horns measure 8–12 centimetres (3.1–4.7 in), the anterior ones are 2–5 centimetres (0.79–1.97 in) long.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nilgai</span> Largest living Asian antelope

The nilgai is the largest antelope of Asia, and is ubiquitous across the northern Indian subcontinent. It is the sole member of the genus Boselaphus, which was first described by Peter Simon Pallas in 1766. The nilgai stands 1–1.5 m (3.3–4.9 ft) at the shoulder; males weigh 109–288 kg (240–635 lb), and the lighter females 100–213 kg (220–470 lb). A sturdy thin-legged antelope, the nilgai is characterised by a sloping back, a deep neck with a white patch on the throat, a short crest of hair along the neck terminating in a tuft, and white facial spots. A column of pendant coarse hair hangs from the dewlap ridge below the white patch. Sexual dimorphism is prominent – while females and juveniles are orange to tawny, adult males have a bluish-grey coat. Only males possess horns, 15–24 cm (5.9–9.4 in) long.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common eland</span> Second largest antelope in the world

The common eland, also known as the southern eland or eland antelope, is a large-sized savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa. An adult male is around 1.6 m (5.2 ft) tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 942 kg (2,077 lb) with a typical range of 500–600 kg (1,100–1,300 lb), 340–445 kg (750–981 lb) for females).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gerenuk</span> Long-necked species of antelope (Litocranius walleri)

The gerenuk, also known as the giraffe gazelle, is a long-necked, medium-sized antelope found in parts of East Africa. The sole member of the genus Litocranius, the gerenuk was first described by the naturalist Victor Brooke in 1879. It is characterised by its long, slender neck and limbs. The antelope is 80–105 centimetres tall, and weighs between 18 and 52 kilograms. Two types of colouration are clearly visible on the smooth coat: the reddish brown back or the "saddle", and the lighter flanks, fawn to buff. The horns, present only on males, are lyre-shaped. Curving backward then slightly forward, these measure 25–44 cm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetan antelope</span> Species of mammal

The Tibetan antelope or chiru is a medium-sized bovid native to the northeastern Tibetan plateau. Most of the population live within the Chinese border, while some scatter across India and Bhutan in the high altitude plains, hill plateau and montane valley. Fewer than 150,000 mature individuals are left in the wild, but the population is currently thought to be increasing. In 1980s and 1990s, they had become endangered due to massive illegal poaching. They are hunted for their extremely soft, light and warm underfur which is usually obtained after death. This underfur, known as shahtoosh, is used to weave luxury shawls. Shahtoosh shawls were traditionally given as wedding gifts in India and it takes the underfur of three to five adult antelopes to make one shawl. Despite strict controls on trade of shahtoosh products and CITES listing, there is still demand for these luxury items. Within India, shawls are worth $1,000–$5,000; internationally the price can reach as high as $20,000. In 1997 the Chinese government established the Hoh Xil National Nature Reserve solely to protect the Tibetan antelope population.

<i>Ovis</i> Genus of mammals

Ovis is a genus of mammals, part of the Caprinae subfamily of the ruminant family Bovidae. Its seven highly sociable species are known as sheep or ovines. Domestic sheep are members of the genus, and are thought to be descended from the wild mouflon of central and southwest Asia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yellow-backed duiker</span> Species of antelope

The yellow-backed duiker is a shy, forest-dwelling antelope of the order Artiodactyla, from the family Bovidae. Yellow-backed duikers are the most widely-distributed of all duikers. They are found mainly in Central and Western Africa, ranging from Senegal and Gambia on the western coast, through to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to western Uganda; their distribution continues southward into Rwanda, Burundi, and most of Zambia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antilocapridae</span> Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

The Antilocapridae are a family of artiodactyls endemic to North America. Their closest extant relatives are the giraffids. Only one species, the pronghorn, is living today; all other members of the family are extinct. The living pronghorn is a small ruminant mammal resembling an antelope.

<i>Taurotragus</i> Genus of mammals

Taurotragus is a genus of large antelopes of the African savanna, commonly known as elands. It contains two species: the common eland T. oryx and the giant eland T. derbianus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Salt's dik-dik</span> Species of mammal

Salt's dik-dik is a small antelope found in semidesert, bushland, and thickets in the Horn of Africa, but marginally also in northern Kenya and eastern Sudan. It is named after Henry Salt, who was the first European to acknowledge the species in Abyssinia in the early 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bovini</span> Tribe of cattle

The tribe Bovini or wild cattle are medium to massive bovines that are native to Eurasia, North America, and Africa. These include the enigmatic, antelope-like saola, the African and Asiatic buffalos, and a clade that consists of bison and the wild cattle of the genus Bos. Not only are they the largest members of the subfamily Bovinae, they are the largest species of their family Bovidae. The largest species is the gaur, weighing up to 1,500 kg (3,300 lb).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tragelaphini</span> Tribe of antelopes

The tribe Tragelaphini, or the spiral-horned antelopes, are bovines that are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. These include the bushbucks, kudus, and the elands. The scientific name is in reference to the mythical creature the tragelaph, a Chimera with the body of a stag and the head of a goat. They are medium-to-large, tall, long-legged antelopes characterized by their iconic twisted horns and striking pelage coloration patterns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preorbital gland</span> Paired exocrine gland in many hoofed animals

The preorbital gland is a paired exocrine gland found in many species of artiodactyls, which is homologous to the lacrimal gland found in humans. These glands are trenchlike slits of dark blue to black, nearly bare skin extending from the medial canthus of each eye. They are lined by a combination of sebaceous and sudoriferous glands, and they produce secretions which contain pheromones and other semiochemical compounds. Ungulates frequently deposit these secretions on twigs and grass as a means of communication with other animals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bovidae in Chinese mythology</span>

Bovidae in Chinese mythology include various myths and legends about a group of biologically distinct animals which form important motifs within Chinese mythology. There are many myths about the animals modernly classified as Bovidae, referring to oxen, sheep, goats, and mythological types such as "unicorns". Chinese mythology refers to those myths found in the historical geographic area of China, a geographic area which has evolved or changed somewhat through history. Thus this includes myths in Chinese and other languages, as transmitted by Han Chinese as well as other ethnic groups. There are various motifs of animals of the Bovidae biological family in Chinese mythology. These have often served as allusions in poetry and other literature. Some species are also used in the traditional Chinese calendar and time-keeping system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Domestication of the goat</span>

Goat evolution is the process by which domestic goats came to exist through evolution by natural selection. Wild goats — medium-sized mammals which are found in noticeably harsh environments, particularly forests and mountains, in the Middle East and Central Asia — were one of the first species domesticated by modern humans, with the date of domestication generally considered to be 8,000 BCE. Goats are part of the family Bovidae, a broad and populous group which includes a variety of ruminants such as bison, cows and sheep. Bovids all share many traits, such as hooves and a herbivorous diet and all males, along with many females, have horns. Bovids began to diverge from deer and giraffids during the early Miocene epoch. The subfamily Caprinae, which includes goats, ibex and sheep, are considered to have diverged from the rest of Bovidae as early as the late Miocene, with the group reaching its greatest diversity in the ice ages.

<i>Tragoportax</i> Extinct genus of bovid

Tragoportax is an extinct genus of bovid ungulate. It lived during the upper Miocene, and its fossils have been found in Europe, Asia and Africa. Tragoportax is sometimes considered to have been a close relative of the extant nilgai, though it may have formed its own subfamily, along with Miotragocerus.


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