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Temporal range: Middle Miocene – present, 15–0  Ma
Blonde Aquitaine.jpg
Domestic cow
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Tribe: Bovini
Gray, 1821
Type genus
Subtribes and genera

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 . [3] [4] 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 (Bos gaurus), weighing up to 1,500 kg (3,300 lb). [5]


Bovins and humans have had a long and complex relationship. Five of seven species have been successfully domesticated, with one species (cattle) being the most successful member of their lineage. Domesticated shortly after the last ice age, [6] there are at least 1.4 billion cattle in the world. [7] Domestic bovines have been selectively bred for beef, dairy products and leather, and serve as working animals. However, many species of wild cattle are threatened by extinction due to habitat loss to make room for cattle farming as well as unregulated hunting. [1] [8] Some are already extinct like the aurochs, two subspecies of European bison and perhaps the kouprey. [9]


In 1821 British zoologist John Edward Gray described the family, subfamily and tribe Bovidae, Bovinae, and Bovini respectively. [10] The word "Bovini" is the combination of the Latin prefix bos (written as bov-, which is Late Latin from bovinus) and the suffix -ini refers to their ranking as a tribe.


Placement within Bovinae


Boselaphini (four-horned antelope and nilgai)

Tragelaphini (spiral-horned antelopes)

Bovini (saola, buffalos, bison, and wild cattle)

Phylogenetic relationships of the Bovinae (Bibi et al., 2013) [3]

The wild cattle belong to the subfamily Bovinae, which also includes spiral-horned antelope of the tribe Tragelaphini and two aberrant species of Asian antelope, four-horned antelope and nilgai, which belong to the tribe Boselaphini. The relationship between the tribes varies in research concerning their phylogeny. Most molecular research supports a Bovini and Tragelaphini subclade of Bovinae. [11] [3] [8] There are also some morphological support for this, most notably both groups have horn cores with a pedicle. [12]

Fossil record

The earliest known wild cattle originated from Asia south of the Himalayas during the Late Miocene. [13] [14] This is not only supported by the fossil record but also the fact that South Asia has the highest diversity of wild cattle on planet, as well as the fact the southeast Asian saola is the basal most of the living species. [13] [14] [15] At some point after the divergence of the three subtribes around 13.7 million years ago, bovins migrated into Africa from Asia where they have diversified into many species. [16] [17] During the Pliocene epoch some bovines left Africa and entered Europe, where they have evolved into hardy, cold-adapted species. [15] During the Ice Age ancestors of the bison had colonized North America from Eurasia over the Bering Land Bridge in two waves, the first being 135,000 to 195,000 years ago and the second being 21,000 to 45,000 years ago. [18] [19]

Below is the list of fossil species that have been described so far listed in alphabetical order that currently do not fit in any of the existing subtribes:



Pseudorygina (saola)

Bubalina (buffalos)

Bovina ( Bison and Bos )

Phylogenetic relationships of the tribe Bovini (Hassanin et al., 2013) [4]

The majority of phylogenetic work based on ribosomal DNA, chromosomal analysis, autosomal introns and mitochondrial DNA has recovered three distinctive subtribes of Bovini: Pseudorygina (represented solely by the saola), Bubalina (represented today by the genera Syncerus and Bubalus ), and Bovina (represented today by the genera Bison and Bos ). [20] [21] According to the fossil record and the molecular work, Bubalina and Bovina have diverged from one and another from a common ancestor around 13.7 million years ago in the Late Miocene. [2] [22] [4] [15]

The number of taxa and their evolutionary relationships with each other has been debated, mainly as there is several evidence of ancient hybridization events that occurred among the various species of wild cattle, obstructing any evidence of their relationships. [23] [24] [22] [25] [4]

Below is the taxonomy of extant genera that are classified as members of the tribe Bovini (more information regarding the species taxonomy is explained more in-depth in their respective subtribe articles): [25] [4] [15] [8]

Natural history

General description

The gaur is the largest species of their lineage. Gaur Male.jpg
The gaur is the largest species of their lineage.

Wild cattle are usually massive bovids that are stout-bodied with thick, short legs. [26] [1] [27] [8] Some species can reach impressive body-sizes such as wild water buffalo, wild yak, American bison, and European bison, which can weigh between 700 and 1,200 kilograms and these species can attain a shoulder height more than 1.9 meters. [27] The gaur can weigh up to 1,500 kilograms and attain a shoulder height up to 2.2 meters. [5] There are some breeds of domestic cattle that can be even larger than both wild species, one of them being the Chianina, bulls of which can weigh from 1,200 to 1,500 kilograms and reach a similar height to the gaur. [28] [29] There are, however, several species of buffalo that live on the various islands in Indonesia are dwarf species, such as the tamaraw and the anoa, that weigh between 200 and 300 kilograms. [27] [8] Furthermore, not all species of bovin look like cattle, such as the saola which looks more like antelope (a fact that caused some confusion among bovid biologists [21] ). What all bovins or wild cattle do have in common is both sexes have the presence of smooth horns, instead of annulated horns seen in most other bovids. [27] [12] [8] In bovinans the horns are round, while in bubalinans they are flattened. [26] Like the spiral-horned antelopes there is extreme sexual dimorphism in bovins, though it is emphasis on the body size and the size of the horns. [26] [27] [8] Males are significantly larger than the females, which most of their features are exaggerated with massive humps, large necks, and in some species the presence of a dewlap. [26] [8] Males and females exhibit sexual monochromatism (with the exception of the banteng, where males are a dark chestnut while females are just chestnut), though the male coloration hues are darker than the females. [26] Coloration can be uniform or with some white markings, from black to brown. [26] [8]

Distribution and ecology

American bison, a species that lives on the open plains of North America Amerikanischer Bison (Bison bison).jpg
American bison, a species that lives on the open plains of North America

The wild species of bovins are found in North America, Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa, though domesticated species or variants have a global cosmopolitan range with the help of humans. [26] [27] With the exception of the open-plains dwelling American bison and the montane-dwelling wild yak, all species of wild cattle inhabit wooded or forested areas with some clearings. [26] [27] The reason is that most species require much roughage (often tall grass) in their diet and much water to drink. [26] [27] In addition they are less efficient eaters than smaller herbivores, as they cannot selectively forage on relatively short grass due their stiff, immobile upperlips. [26] They commonly wallow in mud and water in swamps, especially with water buffalo. [26] [27] Forest-dwelling live in deciduous and tropical forests. With their large body-size, wild cattle have few natural predators aside from humans. Still they are often prey to crocodiles, big cats, spotted hyenas, dholes, and wolves. [27] It is often the young and the weak that are commonly selected by these predators.

Behavior and reproduction

Water buffalo ramming against each other using the weight of their heads and their horns. Water Buffalo fight.jpg
Water buffalo ramming against each other using the weight of their heads and their horns.

Wild cattle are very social animals, which they accumulate into large herds, with some individual sizes that can go into the hundreds. [26] Usually these herds consisted of females and their young, although in some species there are occasionally bachelor males among them. [26] [27] [8] Generally the larger and more experienced males tend to be solitary, though in the breeding season mixed-herds occur. [26] [27] [8] There is a strict hierarchy among males based on size dominance. [26]

All species of bovin are polyandrous. During the rutting period males engage in ramming against each other in order to obtain the breeding rights for females as well as territory. [26] The gestation period occurs once the female has been inseminated from the male successfully. In most species it lasts approximately nine to ten months. [26] [8] They only give birth to a single calf. Once the young are born, they will not wean until they are around six to 10 months depending on the species. [8] Females of most species sexually mature by four years while for males it is seven years. [26]

Genetics and hybridization

A beefalo and her calf. Beefalo (21884654683).jpg
A beefalo and her calf.

The chromosome number varies by species, and sometimes even by subspecies, which warrants further research for taxonomic purposes. [25] The ancestral Y chromosome was probably a small acrocentric, but evolved into several distinct characteristics. [30] The subtribe Bubalina have the acquisition of X-specific repetitive DNA sequence on their Y chromosomes; Bos has derivative metacentric Y chromosomes, and share the presence of shared derivative submetacentric X chromosomes with Bison. [30] Below is a listing of the diploid number 2n of selected species as follows: [30] [31]

Bovin hybridization is most common in the subtribe Bovina, the most well known of these is the beefalo (a cross between cattle and American bison). Most of these hybrids are deliberate from humans wanting to improve the quality of various cattle breeds (in particular for beef production). All bovinan hybrids produce sterile males and fertile females following Haldane's rule. In addition for the agricultural purposes, bovin hybridization was used in the past to save several species such as the American bison in the past. [32] This has caused problems for wild cattle conservation as hybrids pollute the genetic diversity of genetically-pure animals. [32] Bovin hybridization was also a major factor behind the evolution of Bovini, as some species have evidence of ancient hybridization in their genome. [33]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aurochs</span> Extinct species of large cattle that inhabited Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa

The aurochs is an extinct cattle species, considered to be the wild ancestor of modern domestic cattle. With a shoulder height of up to 180 cm (71 in) in bulls and 155 cm (61 in) in cows, it was one of the largest herbivores in the Holocene; it had massive elongated and broad horns that reached 80 cm (31 in) in length.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bison</span> Genus of mammals

A bison is a large bovine in the genus Bison within the tribe Bovini. Two extant and numerous extinct species are recognised.

Buffalo most commonly refers to:

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

Bovines comprise a diverse group of 10 genera of medium to large-sized ungulates, including cattle, bison, African buffalo, water buffalos, and the four-horned and spiral-horned antelopes. The evolutionary relationship between the members of the group is still debated, and their classification into loose tribes rather than formal subgroups reflects this uncertainty. General characteristics include cloven hooves and usually at least one of the sexes of a species having true horns. The largest extant bovine is the gaur.

<i>Bos</i> Genus of wild and domestic cattle

Bos is a genus of wild and domestic cattle. Bos is often divided into four subgenera: Bos, Bibos, Novibos, and Poephagus, but including these last three divisions within the genus Bos without including Bison is believed to be paraphyletic by many workers on the classification of the genus since the 1980s. The genus as traditionally defined has five extant species, but this rises to eight when the domesticated varieties are counted as separate species, and ten when the closely related Bison is also included. Most but not all modern breeds of domesticated cattle are believed to have originated from the extinct aurochs. Many ancient breeds are thought to have originated from other species. Zebus and taurine cattle are thought to descend from ancient Indian and Middle Eastern aurochs, respectively.

<i>Bubalus</i> Genus of bovines

Bubalus is a genus of Asiatic bovines that was proposed by Charles Hamilton Smith in 1827. Bubalus and Syncerus form the subtribe Bubalina, the true buffaloes.

<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">Bovidae</span> Family of mammals belonging to even-toed ungulates

The Bovidae comprise the biological family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes cattle, yaks, bison, buffalo, 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 major subfamilies and thirteen major tribes. The family evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kouprey</span> A little-known, forest-dwelling, wild bovine species from Southeast Asia

The kouprey, also known as the forest ox and grey ox, is a possibly extinct species of forest-dwelling wild bovine native to Southeast Asia. It was first scientifically described in 1937. The name kouprey is derived from the Khmer language and means "forest ox".

<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">Saola</span> Species of mammal

The saola, also called spindlehorn, Asian unicorn, or infrequently, Vu Quang bovid, is one of the world's rarest large mammals, a forest-dwelling bovine native to the Annamite Range in Vietnam and Laos. It was described in 1993 following a discovery of remains in Vũ Quang National Park by a joint survey of the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Saolas have since been kept in captivity multiple times, although only for short periods as they died within a matter of weeks to months. The species was first reported in 1992 by Do Tuoc, a forest ecologist, and his associates. The first photograph of a living saola was taken in captivity in 1993. The most recent one was taken in 2013 by a movement-triggered camera in the forest of central Vietnam. It is the only species in the genus Pseudoryx.

<i>Pelorovis</i> Extinct genus of cattle

Pelorovis is an extinct genus of African wild cattle which existed during the Pleistocene epoch. The best known species is Pelorovis oldowayensis from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, from the Early Pleistocene. The species "Pelorovis" antiquus from the Late Pleistocene-Holocene has since been moved into Syncerus, the same genus as living African buffalo.

<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">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">Harnessed bushbuck</span> Species of mammal

The northern bushbuck or harnessed bushbuck, is a medium-sized antelope, widespread in sub-Saharan-Africa. The northern bushbuck species has been separated from the Cape bushbuck, a southern and eastern species.

<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">Bubalina</span> Subtribe of bovines consisting of the true buffalo

Bubalina is a subtribe of wild cattle that includes the various species of true buffalo. Species include the African buffalo, the anoas, and the wild water buffalo. Buffaloes can be found naturally in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and domestic and feral populations have been introduced to Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In addition to the living species, bubalinans have an extensive fossil record where remains have been found in much of Afro-Eurasia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bovina (subtribe)</span> Subtribe of cattle

Bovina is a subtribe of the Bovini tribe that generally includes the two living genera, Bison and Bos. However, this dichotomy has been challenged recently by molecular work that suggests that Bison should be regarded as a subgenus of Bos. Wild bovinans can be found naturally in North America and Eurasia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saigini</span> Tribe of mammals

Saigini is a tribe of artiodactyl mammals of the Bovidae family, subfamily Antilopinae, comprising two species of medium-sized antelopes that inhabit the Eurasian steppes.


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