Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

Frankly, cattle are awesome


I’ve written about cattle – living and fossil – at least a few times on Tet Zoo (see links below). What a fascinating and awesome assemblage of mammalian herbivores. There are the bison and the members of the domestic cattle lineage, the African buffalo Syncerus caffer and its fossil, long-horned relatives, the Asian water buffalo Bubalus and their dwarf relatives the anoa, those charismatic, sometimes gigantic Asian species like the Gaur Bos gaurus, Banteng B. javanicus, Yak B. grunniens and Kouprey B. sauveli, and the antelope-faced, long-horned fossil form Pelorovis. As usual, there are a great many fascinating fossil kinds, virtually none of which have ever been discussed outside of the technical literature. They include the Javanese Epileptobos, Afro-Asian Hemibos, European Parabos and Yakopsis, African Brabovus and all those obscure Asian taxa, like Adjiderebos, Platybos, Bucapra, Probison, Protobison and Ioribos.

I recently got hold of this diagram [below], produced by Erich Thenius in 1969 for his pamphlet ‘Phylogenie der Mammalia’. It doesn’t show anything revelatory, but it’s just something you don’t see all that often – a nicely illustrated, diagrammatic representation of cattle phylogeny. It’s not a cladogram but a looser, less rigorous dendrogram, and of course some of the affinities illustrated here are not necessarily supported any more. Whatever, I think it looks nice. The photos used above show some impressive and/or beautiful living cattle: an incredibly flamboyant Amerison bison Bison bison photographed by Markus Bühler in Berlin, a Lowland anoa Bubalus depressicornis I photographed at Paignton Zoo recently, and a group of European bison or Wisent Bi. bonasus I got to see while in Romania this year.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on cattle, see...

And for more on other bovids and other artiodactyls, see...

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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