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Temporal range: Late Miocene–present
Stone Sheep British Columbia.jpg
Stone sheep (Ovis dalli stonei) in British Columbia, 2009
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Caprinae
J. E. Gray, 1821

The subfamily Caprinae, [1] also sometimes referred to as the tribe Caprini, [2] is part of the ruminant family Bovidae, [3] and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine, [4] or, more informally, a goat-antelope (although they are not considered antelopes).


Within this tribe, a prominent clade includes sheep and goats. Some earlier taxonomies considered Caprinae a separate family called Capridae (with the members being caprids), but now it is usually considered either a subfamily within the Bovidae, or a tribe within the subfamily Antilopinae of the family Bovidae, with caprines being a type of bovid.


Skeleton of a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on display at the Museum of Osteology Aoudad skeleton.jpg
Skeleton of a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on display at the Museum of Osteology

Although most goat-antelopes are gregarious and have fairly stocky builds, they diverge in many other ways the muskox (Ovibos moschatus) is adapted to the extreme cold of the tundra; the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) of North America is specialised for very rugged terrain; the urial (Ovis orientalis) occupies a largely infertile area from Kashmir to Iran, including much desert country. The Armenian mouflon (Ovis gmelini gmelini) is thought to be the ancestor of the modern domestic sheep (Ovis aries).

Many species have become extinct since the last ice age, probably largely because of human interaction. Of the survivors:

Members of the group vary considerably in size, from just over 1 m (3 ft) long for a full-grown grey goral (Nemorhaedus goral), to almost 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) long for a musk ox, and from under 30 kg (66 lb) to more than 350 kg (770 lb). Musk oxen in captivity have reached over 650 kg (1,430 lb).[ citation needed ]

The lifestyles of caprids fall into two broad classes: 'resource-defenders', which are territorial and defend a small, food-rich area against other members of the same species; and 'grazers', which gather together into herds and roam freely over a larger, usually relatively infertile area.

The resource-defenders are the more primitive group: they tend to be smaller in size, dark in colour, males and females fairly alike, have long, tessellated ears, long manes, and dagger-shaped horns. The grazers (sometimes collectively known as tsoan caprids, from the Hebrew tso'n meaning sheep and goats) evolved more recently. They tend to be larger, highly social, and rather than mark territory with scent glands, they have highly evolved dominance behaviours. No sharp line divides the groups, but a continuum varies from the serows at one end of the spectrum to sheep, true goats, and musk oxen at the other.


Palaeoreas lindermayeri fossil Palaeoreas lindermayeri.JPG
Palaeoreas lindermayeri fossil

The goat-antelope, or caprid, group is known from as early as the Miocene, when members of the group resembled the modern serow in their general body form. [5] The group did not reach its greatest diversity until the recent ice ages, when many of its members became specialised for marginal, often extreme, environments: mountains, deserts, and the subarctic region.

The ancestors of the modern sheep and goats (both rather vague and ill-defined terms) are thought to have moved into mountainous regions sheep becoming specialised occupants of the foothills and nearby plains, and relying on flight and flocking for defence against predators, and goats adapting to very steep terrain where predators are at a disadvantage.

Internal relationships of Caprinae based on mitochondrial DNA. [6]



Pantholops (Tibetan antelope)

Bootherium (Helmeted muskox)

Ovibos (Musk ox)

Capricornis (Serow)

Naemorhedus (Goral)

Ovis (Sheep)

Oreamnos (Mountain goat)

Budorcas (Takin)

Myotragus (Balearic Islands goat)

Rupicapra (Chamois)

Ammotragus (Barbary sheep)

Arabitragus (Arabian tahr)

Pseudois (Bharal)

Hemitragus (Himalayan tahr)

Capra (Turs, markhor, ibexes, goats)


Phylogeny based on Hassanin et al., 2009 and Calamari, 2021. [7] [8]

Family Bovidae

Tribe or SubtribeImageGenusSpecies
Caprini or Caprina Barbary Sheep.png Ammotragus (Blyth, 1840)
Stuffed Arabian Tahr.jpg Arabitragus Ropiquet & Hassanin, 2005
Takin01.jpg Budorcas Hodgson, 1850
  • Takin, Budorcas taxicolor
Walia ibex 2.jpg Capra Linnaeus, 1758
Himalayan Tahr of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuar.jpg Hemitragus (Hodgson, 1841)
Tahr.jpg Nilgiritragus Ropiquet & Hassanin, 2005
Mountain Goat USFWS.jpg Oreamnos Rafinesque, 1817
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep.JPG Ovis Linnaeus, 1758
20170227 0510 HemisNP Bharal.jpg Pseudois Hodgson, 1846
  • Bharal (Himalayan blue sheep), Pseudois nayaur
Gamse (Rupicapra rupicapra) Zoo Salzburg 2014 g-crop.jpg Rupicapra Garsault, 1764
Ovibovini or Ovibovina Nihonkamoshika-akita.JPG Capricornis Ogilby, 1837
Goral Girardinia diversifolia AJTJ.jpg Nemorhaedus Hamilton Smith, 1827
Ovibos moschatus qtl3.jpg Ovibos Blainville, 1816
Pantholopini or Pantholopina Antilope tibetano.jpg Pantholops Hodgson, 1834

Fossil genera

The following extinct genera of Caprinae have been identified: [9] [10]


Related Research Articles

<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, bison, buffalo, antelopes, and caprines. 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">Musk deer</span> Genus of mammals

Musk deer can refer to any one, or all seven, of the species that make up Moschus, the only extant genus of the family Moschidae. Despite being commonly called deer, they are not true deer belonging to the family Cervidae, but rather their family is closely related to Bovidae, the group that contains antelopes, bovines, sheep, and goats. The musk deer family differs from cervids, or true deer, by lacking antlers and preorbital glands also, possessing only a single pair of teats, a gallbladder, a caudal gland, a pair of canine tusks and—of particular economic importance to humans—a musk gland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muskox</span> Arctic land mammal

The muskox, also spelled musk ox and musk-ox, plural muskoxen or musk oxen, is a hoofed mammal of the family Bovidae. Native to the Arctic, it is noted for its thick coat and for the strong odor emitted by males during the seasonal rut, from which its name derives. This musky odor has the effect of attracting females during mating season. Its Inuktitut name "umingmak" translates to "the bearded one".

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

The bovid subfamily Reduncinae or tribe Reduncini is composed of nine species of antelope, all of which dwell in marshes, floodplains, or other well-watered areas, including the waterbucks and reedbucks. These antelopes first appear in the fossil record 7.4 million years ago in Eurasia and 6.6 Mya in Africa.

The kting voar, also known as the khting vor, linh dương, or snake-eating cow is a bovid mammal reputed to exist in Cambodia and Vietnam. The kting voar's existence as a real species should be regarded as questionable.

<i>Capra</i> (genus) Genus of mammals, the goats

Capra is a genus of mammals, the goats, composed of up to nine species, including the markhor and many species known as ibexes. The domestic goat is a domesticated species derived from the wild goat. Evidence of goat domestication dates back more than 8,500 years.

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

The takin, also called cattle chamois or gnu goat, is a large species of ungulate of the subfamily Caprinae found in the eastern Himalayas. It includes four subspecies: the Mishmi takin, the golden takin, the Tibetan takin, and the Bhutan takin.

<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>Myotragus</i> Extinct genus of mammals

Myotragus is an extinct genus of goat-antelope in the tribe Caprini which lived on the Balearic Islands of Mallorca and Menorca in the western Mediterranean until its extinction around 4,500 years ago. The fossil record of Myotragus on the Balearic Islands extends over 5 million years back to the early Pliocene on Mallorca, where it presumably arrived after the evaporation of the Mediterranean Sea during the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Myotragus is represented by six sequential chronospecies representing gradual change in morphology. The youngest and best known species, M. balearicus, is noted for a number of unusual morphological adaptions, including forward facing eyes suggestive of binocular vision, and a reptilian-like physiology. Early genetic research suggested that it was closely related to sheep of the genus Ovis; however, more recent research has indicated that its closest living relative is the takin. M.balearicus became extinct when humans arrived in the Balearic Islands during the 3rd millennium BC.

<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.

<i>Euceratherium</i> Extinct genus of mammals

The shrub-ox is an extinct genus and species of ovibovine caprine native to North America along with Bootherium and Soergel's ox.

<i>Bootherium</i> Extinct species of mammal

Bootherium is an extinct bovid genus from the middle to late Pleistocene of North America which contains a single species, Bootherium bombifrons. Vernacular names for Bootherium include Harlan's muskox, woodox, woodland muskox, helmeted muskox, or bonnet-headed muskox. Bootherium was one of the most widely distributed muskox species in North America during the Pleistocene era. It is most closely related to the modern muskox, from which it diverged around 3 million years ago, it is possibly synonymous with Euceratherium, although this is uncertain.

<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">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.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balearean boc</span>

The Balearean boc also known as the Majorcan wild goat, is a caprid native to the Balearic Islands in Spain. Being the only big game species that exists in the Balearic Islands, it has attracted attention from international hunters, particularly from the United States, where the SCI included it as a game species in 2004. The CIC and the National Board of Trophy Hunting Homologation included it in 2009 and 2008 respectively.

<i>Megalovis</i> Extinct genus of mammal

Megalovis is an extinct genus of bovid that lived in Eurasia during the Plio-Pleistocene.


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  4. "Definition of CAPRINE". Retrieved 2019-12-11.
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  7. Hassanin, Alexandre; Ropiquet, Anne; Couloux, Arnaud; Cruaud, Corinne (2009-04-01). "Evolution of the Mitochondrial Genome in Mammals Living at High Altitude: New Insights from a Study of the Tribe Caprini (Bovidae, Antilopinae)". Journal of Molecular Evolution. 68 (4): 293–310. doi:10.1007/s00239-009-9208-7. ISSN   1432-1432. PMID   19294454. S2CID   27622204.
  8. Calamari, Zachary T. (June 2021). "Total Evidence Phylogenetic Analysis Supports New Morphological Synapomorphies for Bovidae (Mammalia, Artiodactyla)". American Museum Novitates (3970): 1–38. doi:10.1206/3970.1. ISSN   0003-0082. S2CID   235441087.
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