Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Leptobos and the origin of Bos and Bison

In the most recent phylogenies based on mitochondrial DNA, Bos turns out to be paraphyletic. The yak is grouped as a sister taxon to Bison, and banteng and gaur form a clade that is sister to yak and bison [1,2]. The wisent is a sister taxon to cattle in this phylogeny, was has been interpreted as the result of hybridization. The most recent study, however, considers it more likely that this is the result of incomplete lineage sorting [1].  

Regarding the origin of Bos, there are two conflicting hypothesis. One that suggests an African origin, and one that suggests an Asiatic origin. Advocates of the "out of Africa" hypothesis suggest an origin from Pelorovis oldowayensis [3]. Pelorovis, however, is considered to be too different by other authors. They suggest an origin from Leptobos instead, which is described as more similar to Bos [4]. 
Leptobos comprises a group of fossil bovine species with very variable horns. Leptobos is also suggested to be the direct ancestor of Bison. And indeed the cranium of L. vallisarni bears striking resemblance to bison skulls, so that some authors list it as Bison vallisarni instead. Leptobos stenometopon, on the other hand, has a horn curvature that is reminiscent of that of aurochs, kouprey and yak. This horn curvature could either be basal to the Bos-Bison clade or evolved several times. The fact some species of Leptobos resemble Bos species while others resemble bison in cranial anatomy might imply that different species of Leptobos gave rise to the modern Bos clades (aurochs/cattle, the banteng-gaur and possible also kouprey clade) and bison. In this case, Leptobos would be a genus that includes the basalmost members of the Bos-Bison clade. This is only my personal speculation. More complete skeletal material would be needed in order to better resolve the paleontological evidence for the origin of the Bos and bison species. 
Leptobos etruscus - is Leptobos the ancestor of the Bos-Bison clade?

[1] Wang et al.: Incomplete lineage sorting rather than hybridization explains the inconsistent phylogeny of the wisent. 2018. 
[2] Verkaar et al.: Maternal and paternal lineages in cross-breeding bovine species. Has the wisent a hybrid origin? 2004. 
[3] Martinez-Navarro et al.: The Olduvai buffalo Pelorovis and the origin of Bos. 2007. 
[4] Tong et al.: New fossils of Bos primigenius (Artiodactyla, Mammalia) from Nihewan and Longhua of Hebei, China. 2014. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

A zebuine ancestry for Chianina?

Genetic studies have helped a great deal to understand the history of domestic cattle populations in recent years. 
For example, it has been resolved that many Southern European cattle breeds have influence from North African taurine cattle [1], which is not surprising considering that there were trade routes in ancient times. North African taurine cattle are genetically distinct from other taurine cattle, which is interpreted as the result of significant introgression of African aurochs [1]. Therefore, many Iberian and some Italian breeds might have African aurochs in their ancestry. For Chianina (and related breeds such as Romagnola, Marchigiana and others) in particular, zebuine influence has been detected as well [1]. This does not surprise me that much, as I have been suspecting that the white colour of Chianina (produced by at least two different alleles, on the Agouti and Dun locus) is actually inherited from zebus. Some zebu breeds have exactly the same white colour as Chianina, for example see the Nelore breed. Also, the face of Chianina looks slightly zebuine to me, as well as the fact that it lacks curly hair on the front head (which is typical for zebuine cattle but rare in taurine cattle). 

So Chianina is influenced by zebuine cattle. This might be used as an argument against the use of Chianina in "breeding-back" by those who want to use Maremmana instead for large size. However, Podolian cattle - such as Maremmana - are significantly influenced by zebuine cattle as well [2,3]. This also shows in the phenotype: I suspect that the upright horns, large dewlap and Agouti dilution of Podolian cattle are derived from zebuine cattle. 
But I think this is neither an argument against Chianina or Maremmana. Zebuine influence is simply not all that uncommon in taurine cattle, and unavoidable for "breeding-back", as many breeds needed for certain traits, such as size, have zebuine influence. 
As an interesting side note, it has been recognized that zebus share some wildtype alleles with the British aurochs whose genome was fully sequenced, while taurine cattle have other alleles on these loci [4]. So zebus do have some alleles in common with the European aurochs. 

[1] Decker et al.: Worldwide patterns of ancestry, divergence and admixture in domestic cattle. 2014. 

[2] Papachristou et al.: Genomic diversity and population structure of the indigenous Greek and Cypriot cattle. 2020. 
[3] Upadhyay et al.: Genetic origin, admixture and population history of aurochs (Bos primigenius) and primitive European cattle. 
[4] Orlando et al.: The first aurochs genome reveals the breeding history of British and European cattle. 2015. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Three more Tauros bulls

I have been covering Tauros cattle a lot here recently, and I have found some more photos of three Tauros bulls that are interesting. 
This includes a bull at Maashorst. The horns are really good. The size is ok, the curvature is basically right but should be more intense in order to be perfect. Actually the horns are better than in most Taurus cattle. The body shape and proportion cannot be judged because the bull is lying. 
Another bull is from Keent. I wonder what the breed combination of the bull is. I suspect that it is part Highland x Maremmana, the body shape reveals Highland influence and the long dewlap and the horns point to Maremmana. Since the bull is from Keent, Manolo Uno (Maremmana x Pajuna) might be the father. In this case the bull would be (Maremmana x Highland) x (Maremmana x Pajuna), what I consider plausible. 
The third bull is from Keent too. I have no idea what combination this one could be. 

Looking at the horns of the upper two bulls, I might reconsider my pessimism concerning the horns of Tauros cattle. The sizes of the horns are useful, and the curvature of the horns of the first bull is really good. 

Monday, 21 September 2020

K. L. Hartig's aurochs painting

There is an aurochs painting from 1955 that is worth noticing. It's the painting by the German artist K. L. Hartig, which can be seen here. It was done for a publication by the zoologist Hans von Lengerken in the same year. The original was coloured and is untraceable today, unfortunately. What is special about this painting is its accuracy. Hartig took measurements from a nearly complete skeleton and a skull from the collection of the natural history museum of Berlin, so the painting can arguably be called a reconstruction. The only aspects to criticize are that the shoulder hump is to low and the snout too short, perhaps also the head too small, but otherwise it is pretty accurate. The fact that the hump is too low was recognized in the literature as early as in 1957. While most historic aurochs reconstructions were rather imprecise or incorrect, with Hartig's painting there is at least one that gave an accurate impression of the aurochs' life appearance already back in the 1950s. 

The painting inspired me to do my own version of it. I based it on the Sassenberg bull skeleton, which I used quite often for my reconstructions. It is a large-horned Holocene specimen, but there were also Holocene aurochs bulls with comparably small horns such as the Himmelev specimen
Here is the result: 


Walter Frisch: Der Auerochs - das europäische Rind. 2010. 

Friday, 11 September 2020

The Tauros cattle of Kettingdijk, Netherlands

On monday this week, Gerard vanne Smeed posted a blog article with many photos of the Tauros cattle from Kettingdijk in the Netherlands. Also with the link to the flickR page for more photos. It was awesome to the so many photos of a large Tauros cattle herd, as it is pretty hard to find good photos of the project on the web. 

The herd consists of crossbreeds and possibly also pure individuals of Limia and maybe also Maremmana as well as a pure Maronesa bull. The influence of Highland cattle still shows in a number of individuals that have the brindle coat colour pattern (see here or here for example). The Highland influence also shows in the colour and horns of this cow. Some individuals could easily be sold as Heck cattle, such as this bull or these cows. Interestingly, one bull is very pale-coloured, perhaps a combination of Maremmana and Highland colour alleles. There are also bulls with a correct colour such as this one. The adult bull on this photo also looks nice. Concerning the sexual dimorphism, there are lightly coloured cows but also many dark cows, bulls can be wholly black but about the half seems to have a colour saddle. So the sexual dichromatism is not very marked in the herd. Also, the bulls seem to be barely larger than the cows, which might be because they are not fully grown yet. All of the bulls seem to have a hump, which is good. The bulls are muscular overall, they just need longer legs. If I had to rank these Tauros cattle, I would say they are somewhere between Heck cattle and Taurus cattle. 

The Tauros Programme seems to have a different approach to the breeding. While most "breeding-back" projects breed by selecting a chief bull and selecting out individuals that do not fit the standards, the Tauros Programme seemingly let the cattle breed for themselves with many bulls in one herd, with barely any selection (the fact that there are still brindle individuals suggests to me that no selection has taken place yet, as this trait is dominant and easy to select out). Maybe the selection phase has not started yet. I think it is good that the cattle have bull competition in their breeding, as this enables natural selection, but I think this phase is too early for that. It will be very difficult to raise the quality* of the herds this way, except if all bulls were quality bulls. Again, maybe the selective breeding phase has not started yet and they will start selective breeding in the next months or years. 
*By quality I mean the resemblance to the aurochs in its morphological traits, not the surviving capacity, behaviour or other traits. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Przewalski's horse cloned for genetic diversity

In 2015 I proposed cloning as a chance for the wisent's survival. Cloning pre-bottleneck wisents would greatly increase the genetic diversity of the species, since the modern population descends from a population of only about 50 individuals which itself descended from only 12 individuals. Adding the genetic diversity of wisents that lived before the dramatic bottleneck event in the 20th century would help the species to overcome its inbreeding depression. And if cloning is not possible, genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 is a viable alternative. 

It seems that there are people who had the same idea for the Przewalski's horse, which descends from only 12 individuals as well. A stallion has been cloned from an individual that has been cryopreserved since 1980. For details, you can have a look at the article from Revive & Restore. 

I hope that cloning for conservation will not be restricted to this one individual. I hope this idea will be put into practice for other species as well, including the wisent. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Reconstruction of aurochs cow horns

Recently I did a reconstruction of the horns of the Asti specimen at the Museo paleontologico territoriale dell'Astiagiano. 

Reconstructing the horn sheaths on the bony cores always requires speculation to a certain degree. The horn sheath continues the curvature of the bone, but there is no rule of thumb on how much the sheath increases length and thickness of the horn. Especially the length of the sheath may vary greatly in comparison to the bony core (see van Vuure 2005). So we can only guess how much the sheath added to the horns in the individual specimen. I usually reconstruct the horn sheath with 133% of the length of the bony core. 

Here is the result: 

Please do not use without permission. 

In modern cattle, Watussi, Heck cattle of the Wörth lineage and Maronesa may have horns similar to those above. A mix of all three might reach the goal both in curvature and dimensions. 

Another reconstruction of the Asti specimen is about to come. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Tauros cattle arrived in Velebit, Croatia

As Rewilding Europe recently announced, 20 Tauros cattle (18 cows, two bulls) have been moved to Velebit, Croatia. They will join a herd of 120 individuals that consist of pure Sayaguesa and Maremmana as well as crosses of Sayaguesa, Maremmana and Tudanca that have been grazing there since 2016. The purebred bulls will be removed in turn if I understand correctly.
You can see photos of the herd here and here

Based on their looks, the herd might include Maremmana x Sayaguesa, Limia x Maremmana and Pajuna x Maremmana individuals. But that is only a guess. I doubt that these fully grown individuals are fifth-generation. First of all, the Tauros Programme counts the parental generation as first-generation, what means that their second-generation animals are actually the first cross generation. So that means they mean fourth-generation. Also that seems a far stretch for a breeding period of 11 years. Body shape and proportions are OK, they are pretty much the standard we see in Taurus cattle and primitive cattle breeds. So is the skull shape. The horns, however, are not that impressing, as in most Tauros cattle. They are to small and the curvature is not aurochs-like either. What I also noticed is that the cows are mostly pretty dark, what is true for most Tauros cattle. I wonder why. Surely, Sayaguesa contributes dark colour shades in cows but other projects achieve a nice reddish-brown coat colour even in half-Sayaguesas. Maremmana, Limia, Tudanca and Pajuna also have lightly coloured cows. So I wonder why most Tauros cows are that dark. 

The Tauros Programme, after 11 years of breeding, now has reached a level of good quantity. They have a total animal count in the three-figure range. What the programme needs is to improve the sexual dichromatism (i.e. achieve more lighter-coloured cows) and to improve the horns in both size and curvature. There are no size measurements for Tauros cattle (at least none that have been published) but the cattle at Keent (NL) do not look large. So they also might want to improve the size of the animals, considering that they are using a number of small breeds (Pajuna, Highland cattle, Maronesa). While selection can improve the sexual dichromatism and if they pay attention on only using bulls with good horns also the horn shape, I doubt that they can achieve the improvement of the horns and body size with the breeds they are currently using. The horn size of many Maremmana (the largest-horned breed they are using) is actually smaller than in the aurochs (see here, for example). Maremmana is also the largest breed they are using, and Maremmana does reach sizes of 170cm and allegedly more, but their Maremmana individuals don't look large (one of their Maremmana bulls was barely larger than the Pajuna bull, and the other one didn't look much taller than the Highland individuals). 
Summa summarum, I think the Tauros Programme needs breeds that add large size, truly large horn volume, and also a good horn curvature when starting the quality-building phase otherwise Tauros cattle might end up deficient in terms of horns and body size. 

Friday, 28 August 2020

A Watussi steer with perfectly aurochs-like horns

Recently I found a video of a Watussi individual with very aurochs-like horns. Normally, Watussi bulls' horns look more like that. This individual however has horns that have a perfectly aurochs-like curvature (yes the horns are very large, though there were Pleistocene aurochs bulls with horns only a little smaller). I was not surprised that this individual is obviously a steer. Steers often tend to have more aurochs-like horns. Why is that? I explain this in this post. Horn length and consequently shape is determined by developmental factors. Development is deeply changed in domestic animals, usually there is a premature stop in development, causing the animals to display paedomorphic features. Thus it is not far-fetched to assume that horns tend to stop growing earlier in domestic animals, producing the horn shapes they have (usually less curved than in the aurochs). Steers, however, have an atypical development as their gonads are removed. The body does not know when to stop development and thus they grow larger, taller and also the horns grow longer (for another example, go here). Coincidentally, this developmental elongation compensates the developmental delay that results from domestication, resulting in a wildtype-like outcome. This is what we see in the Watussi steer. 

This has two implications for "breeding-back". For once, it means that bulls with banana-shaped forwards-facing horns (as we see it in many primitive breeds and "breeding-back" cattle) actually have the right genes for an aurochs-like horn curvature (the horns would also end up longer). It are developmental factors that result in the domestic condition. Furthermore, the big question is then: can "breeding-back", with the cattle that we have, produce perfectly aurochs-like horns at all? Selecting just on the phenotype that we want would not reverse the developmental changes from wildtype to domestic that we have in cattle. However, there are occasionally bulls with horns very close to the original aurochs horn shape, such as some Maronesa bulls (and also cows). And maybe it is not a coincidence that this breed has also retained a substantial degree of colour dimorphism. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Two Tauros bulls with good horns

Most examples of Tauros cattle from the Tauros Programme don't have that good horns. Mostly they face outwards too much and lack the inwards curve. This goes for cows as much as for bulls. However, today I was addressed to two photos of two Tauros bulls with comparably good horns from the Loozerheide, Netherlands. 

Go here and here. The head of the first bull resembles some Taurus bulls quite closely. The second bull might have Maronesa ancestry but I could be wrong on that. 

It's really good to see Tauros bulls with such nice horns, it makes me hope that future Tauros cattle will develop better horns than the current majority. However, I think the project still needs a breed that reliably and truly adds slenderness, long legs and large size. Maremmana alone probably will not do it. 

Friday, 10 July 2020

New photos from the Auerrind project

Claus Kropp recently sent me interesting photos of some of the Auerrind crosses, which I am going to present today. 
© Claus Kropp
This is the Chianina x Watussi cow born in 2019. Her horns are developing well. She will be covered in 2021. Here is another photo of her, next to a Sayaguesa x Chianina cow: 
© Claus Kropp
In sum, there are three Chianina x Watussi cows, two calves have been born this year: 
© Claus Kropp
I wonder what would be the ideal combination to cross them with. Claus Kropp told me one option is the Sayaguesa x Maremmana bull. There are also Sayaguesa x Maremmana cow calves, one of them down below: 
© Claus Kropp
It apparently inherited the colour of a Sayaguesa cow.  Here is a new photo of the Maremmana x Watussi bull: 
© Claus Kropp
There is no plan yet as to which combination it could be crossed with. 

More Sayaguesa x Chianina calves have been born: 
© Claus Kropp
© Claus Kropp
The cow Maxima on the upper photo has a very good and useful horn curvature. The cow in the back at the lower photo with the asymmetric horns (I think it is La Nova) is interesting as well; the question is which horn shape gets passed on. If she passes on the horn shape of her left horn it would be perfect. 

It is very exciting to see those interesting combinations growing up and I am looking forward to the second-generation animals they will produce. The second generation is also where the selection starts. Since both Leo the Sayaguesa bull and Luca the Maremmana bull are about 170cm tall, many Auerrind crosses might end up being on the larger side. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Genus hybrids and why I keep Bison and Bos separate

Taxonomy is a very subjective and – as I am going to show – also very inconsistent field. You have to keep in mind that it is just an artificial system of us humans to categorize and order the biodiversity we find on this earth. It is man-made and therefore not perfect. I have to admit that I am strongly influenced by modern phylogenetic systematics and cladistics, which is why I do not attribute much significance to systematic “ranks” such as order, family, class and so on. This is because ranks are very artificial and subjective. By which criteria can we tell that Hominidae, Canidae and Tyrannosauridae all deserve the same “rank”? There is also a kind of “shifting baseline syndrome”, since back in the time when Linnè started his taxonomy, the genus included what is now considered a family (for example, LoxodontaElephas and Mammuthus were all included in Elephas back then). Ranks are based on gut feelings rather than objective criteria. 
Not to forget that it is barely compatible with evolutionary processes. Birds, for example, which are considered a “class” in classic Linnean taxonomy, are deeply nested within Dinosauria. Dinosauria itself is considered a way smaller rank than Aves. In my systematic world only unranked clades exist. Ignoring ranks makes the whole business a lot less artificial and subjective. But there is one rank that we cannot get rid of that easily, which is the genus. The reason for that is that it is part of the nominal system – a species’ name consists of a genus epitheton and a species epitheton. Therefore, one can ignore higher ranks but the genus is still there for nomenclatural reasons. To me, genera are just clades just as any other clade. 

I am writing this post because I want to explain why I do not consider Bos and Bison synonymous. In recent years, Bison has been lumped into Bos by an increasing number of authors because bison and cattle can interbreed, and produce fertile female offspring while males are infertile. This has lead those authors to synonymize both genera (another reason is the alleged paraphyly of both genera, a problem which is solved when reconsidering the classification of the yak as Bos and considering the most recent publications that deny the mitochondrial position of the Wisent within Bos). However, genus hybrids are actually common in the animal system, both in the wild and captivity. Here I collected a list of genus hybrids within Tetrapoda below: 

Narwhal and Beluga (Monodon monoceros x Delphinapterus leucas

Bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale (Tursiops truncatus x Pseudorca crassidens

Dromedary camel and lama (Camelus dromedarius x Lama glama)

Black and white rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis x Ceratotherium simum)

Sheep and goat (Ovis aries x Capra aegagrus
Fertil in one case according to Wikipedia. They even belong to different subfamilies. 

Serval and domestic cat (Leptailurus serval x Felis catus)
Fertile breed. 

Bengal cat and domestic cat (Prionailurus bengalensis x Felis catus)
Fertile breed. 

African savannah elephant and Asian elephant (Loxodonta africana x Elephas maximus)
One case which died twelve days after birth. 

Marine Iguana and Galapagos land iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus x Conolophus subcristatus)
Those hybrids occur in the wild. 

Hawksbill sea turtle and loggerhead sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata x Caretta caretta)
There are other cases of genus hybrids among turtles as well. 

Gold finch and canary bird (Carduelis carduelis x Serinus carnaria)
There are actually a lot of singing birds genus hybrids. 

Muscovy duck and domestic duck (Cairina moschata x Anas platyrhynchos)
There are a couple of other anatid genus hybrids as well. 

Chicken hybrids 
There are a lot of genus hybrid cases reported for chicken. There are hybrids between chicken and guinafowl and common pheasant, Phasanius colchicus. Peafowl and the common guinafowl Numida meleagris have been crossed – these two even belong to different families. 

Those are only examples that I found on a quick search in the web. There are actually more. To me, this shows two aspects of the story. First of all, it proves that taxonmy is quite inconsistent. It also shows that the ability to produce hybrid offspring is not the best criterion for synonymy. If Bison and Bos are considered synonyms because they can hybridize, all of the genera above would have to be synonymized. This would in some cases create huge super-genera that would swallow whole subfamilies or families (see the sheep/goat or chicken example). The ability to hybridize is just one hint that two species are related. Often hybridization is just prohibited by small differences such as a slightly different karyotype or just one incompatible gene. I see no good reason why the ability to hybridize is more important than all the other aspects taxonomy is based on, such as other genetic aspects, morphology, ecology and phylogeny and it would create a taxonomic mess. Taking this and the commonness of genus hybrids into account, I see no compelling reason to synonymize Bos and Bison on genus level. 

Monday, 6 July 2020

Tauros bulls, a Taurus birth and a new Auerrind calf

Today I have news from all three main aurochs breeding back projects. 

Tauros bulls 
I found some photos of Tauros bulls on the web that I haven't posted here yet. Here, here and here. The first bull is from Herpeduin, the other two photos are from Maashorst. On the last photo, I particularly like the bull in the front. The colour is perfect and the horns look pretty good as well. They have the best curvature I have seen so far in a Tauros bull. 

Birth of a Taurus calf 
I found three videos showing the birth of a Taurus bull calf. Here, here and here. It is interesting that the cow gave birth in the open field. Normally they would look for a shelter and give birth there, but not all cows have the instinct to do that. 

A new Auerrind calf 
Claus Kropp posted a new photo of a second-generation cow calf today: 
© Claus Kropp
Its name is Doro, and it is (Sayaguesa x Watussi) x (Sayaguesa x Grey cattle). I am looking forward to see it growing, it has the potential to look very good. Claus Kropp also told me that they recently measured Leo the Sayaguesa bull. It is 171cm tall at the withers, which is a very good size. In about two weeks, Alvarez the Sayaguesa x Watussi bull is going to be moved to the herd with the Sayaguesa x Chianina cows. 

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Aurochs cow artwork

This is a reconstruction of the female skull at the Gramsberg Museum in the Netherlands. I particularly like the horn shape of this specimen. A mix of Sayaguesa, Watussi and Maronesa might have the potential to result in horns like these. And Chianina for the body shape. Although they do not use Maronesa, let's see if the Auerrind project will achieve cows like that. Cows of the combination (Chianina x Watussi) x (Sayaguesa x Watussi) might have the potential to get close. 

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Bos primigenius suxianensis

The classic convention is that there are three subspecies of aurochs – Bos primigenius primigenius, the European one, Bos primigenius namadicus, the Indian one and Bos primigenius africanus, the African one. Here is a chart for the distribution of the subspecies: 

As you see, material from Central and East Asia are included in the European subspecies primigenius. In western literature, the East Asian aurochs material is described as very similar to that of Europe (van Vuure, 2005). 
However, there is Asian literature that is barely recognized in the western scientific community that assigns the material to its own subspecies, Bos primigenius suxianensis [1]. A 2018 study found that aurochs remains were pretty abundant in Neolithic China, and that much of the material has been wrongly assigned to Bison previously. It was also found that East Asian aurochs belonged to a unique haplotype (haplotype C) and therefore were genetically distinct from other aurochs populations [2]. Chinese aurochs were probably hunted, and most likely also hunted to extinction as were the European populations. 
Not only were those East Asian populations genetically distinct, the bone material that is available on the web shows some morphological differences to the European subspecies. The horns are always long and more upright than what is average in the European population, and the shape is slightly different as well. They do not curve inwards that strongly, and they curve more upwards at the base. You see that in this and these specimen. Also, the nasal bones are somewhat raised and more convex than in the European subspecies. You see that in this Chinese specimen and the Baikal skull

I did a life reconstruction of the specimen linked above: 
Life reconstruction of Bos primigenius suxianensis
Note the different horn shape and the convex snout. Nothing is known about the coat colouration of East Asian aurochs, but for this drawing I assumed it had the same colour as the European subspecies. 

So it seems that Central and East Asian aurochs were genetically and also morphologically distinct populations, justifying its subspecies status. Therefore, there actually were four wild aurochs subspecies. The reason why the Asiatic subspecies is not part of the “basic aurochs knowledge” is probably that the Chinese literature is less recognized in the western scientific community, and that the bone material (which even includes nicely preserved complete specimen) is less noticed compared to the plentiful European material, except for the Baikal skull. It would be interesting to know if there was a continuum between primigenius and suxianensis, as the distribution area apparently was continuous at least some of the time of their existence. The Kiev specimen, which is the Easternmost specimen of the European subspecies that I know of, does have some similarities in horn shape. 

The aurochs apparently was a species with a wide geographical range and regional variations. The European subspecies which is the “standard” when we think of an aurochs, the African subspecies that apparently had a colour saddle, the Indian aurochs with its slender cranium and the long wide-ranging horns, and the East Asian aurochs with the slightly different horns and the convex snout. When we look at other bovines with a wide geographical range such as the Banteng or the Cape buffalo, there might have been more local colour variants that we do not know of. 


[1] Xie: A skull of Bos primigenius suxianensis from Anhui. 1988.  
[2] Cai et al.: Ancient DNA reveals evidence of abundant aurochs (Bos primigenius) in Neolithic Northeast China. 2018. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Quagga life restoration

Today I did another Quagga life restoration, based on the Amsterdam skin

I drew it in the same posture as this zebra of the Quagga Project so that both can be easily compared. 

The stripe pattern on the Quagga is different from those of the zebras of the project. The stripes are broader, with a much smaller space in between, especially on the head. Also, the brownish background colour of the trunk is not quite achieved yet. Furthermore, I suspect that there are more differences between Quaggas and Burchell's zebras. For example, the mane seems to be shorter in each of the skins and the photos of the London mare. Also, it might be that the ears are smaller. Although being nested within the Burchell's zebra, the quagga has unique haplotypes identifying the subspecies. 
The zebras of the Quagga project, on the other hand, are simply Burchell's zebras with a reduced stripe pattern, not more than that. This is why I wrote Please don't call it Quagga

Friday, 19 June 2020

Aurochs horn variation

I described the horns of the aurochs in a 2013 post already. The basic curvature of the horns was always the same in the aurochs, but there was considerable variation on the actual length, thickness, shape and orientation of the horns within a certain range. 

I tried to capture this variation on two drawings in 2015 where I reconstructed the horn sheaths onto 22 skulls in order to see what the horns might have looked like in life. I am going to repost them down below. We cannot be absolutely sure on the life appearance of the sheaths as there was no general rule of thumb of how much the sheath adds to length and thickness of the horn cure. There was quite some variation (van Vuure, 2005). So the reconstructions down below are an approximation. 
For the identity of the skulls, go to the 2015 post

Recently I did some more sketches, also including skulls that I already reconstructed in 2015: 
From left to right top down: Berlin skull, a skull of a location unknown to me, the Cambridge cow, Gramsberger Museum skull, Himmelev specimen, Horsholm specimen, a cow skull from Italy, the Stuttgart skull and the Vig bull. 

Having reconstructed about 30 specimen, I think this is a fairly representative sample for the variation of the horns of the European subspecies Bos primigenius primigenius

Orientation relative to the skull 

The literature states that the orientation of the horns relative to the skull varied from 50 to 70° (van Vuure, 2005). However, having had a look at so many skulls I find that the range is actually larger. The oldest aurochs skull which was discovered in 2014 had an orientation of 40°. The Vig specimen has an orientation of 90°, and the Horsholm specimen probably an even larger angle. 

Geographic variation

I see some sort of geographic correlation in the variation of the horn types. For example, the more Southern the skulls, the sharper is the angle between the horns and the snout. The more Northern and Eastern, the higher is the orientation of the horns. You see that very clearly in the Kiev specimen and the Eastern Asian aurochs Bos primigenius suxianensis (yes, apparently Eastern Asian aurochs were a distinct subspecies, more on that in an upcoming post). Small-horned aurochs seemingly only appeared in Northern Europe, all other locations (Southern Europe, Africa, Asia) had pretty large-horned aurochs. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Aurochs bull and cow portrait

Recently I did a new portrait of a European aurochs bull and cow. I was inspired by the photo of Murnau-Werdenfelsers. 
The horns of the bull are based on the Berlin specimen, those of the cow are based on the cow at Gramsberger Museum, Netherlands. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Cambridge specimen

The Cambridge aurochs is one of the complete aurochs skeletons that are on display. It was found in Burwell, England, and is mounted at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge. It is the best-preserved British aurochs specimen, and of unknown age. For photos of the specimen, go here or here

The museum itself claims it was a bull. Indeed the postcranial skeleton looks masculine, with its robust bones and high shoulder spines. However, the skull reveals it was definitely a cow. The eye sockets are not very prominent, and the distance of the end of the frontal bone between the horns is considerably shorter than the distance between from eye socket to eye socket, while in male skulls the distance is about the same. A comparison between the skull of the Cambridge specimen (here) and skulls that are definitely male (f.e. here) shows its female nature. Furthermore, the withers height of the skeleton is only 145 cm (therefore the live animal must have been between 150 and 155 cm tall), see Frisch 2010. 

I did a reconstruction of the head of the specimen based on this photo: 

The horns resemble those of some Heck cattle from the Wörth lineage, go here and here for a comparison. The head of the specimen bears some resemblance to Sayaguesa and other primitive cattle. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

The white muzzle ring of the aurochs

The white or lightly coloured muzzle ring around the mouth (“mealy mouth”) of the aurochs in both sexes is a standard element when reconstructing the aurochs’ colour scheme. In this post, I am going to have a look at what the evidence actually says. 

First of all, the lightly coloured muzzle ring is part of the E+ wildtype colour in domestic cattle. Yet, written sources never mention the muzzle ring. Not even Anton Schneeberger’s precise description of the looks of the last aurochs at Jaktorow in Gesner 1602. 
Looking at contemporaneous artistic depictions, there is evidence for the muzzle ring in aurochs. Some cow depictions in cave paintings show a muzzle ring (see here and here), and also the bull depictions in Lascaux. The bull heads in Chauvet, on the other hand, definitely do not show it although the artist paid attention to the dorsal stripe. The oil painting from the 16th century that Charles Hamilton Smith based his famous “Augsburg aurochs” drawing on and that could have been based on a life aurochs, showed, according to Smith, wholly black colour except for a white chin (van Vuure, 2005). 

In domestic cattle with a wildtype colour scheme, you sometimes see a reduced muzzle ring, particularly in aging bulls. The white area on the snout becomes smaller and darker, it may even completely disappear except for the lightly coloured chin. Apparently this also was the case in the individual the Augsburg painting was based on. In Bantengs and Gaurs, there is individual variation on the degree of the white muzzle ring. It may be fully expressed or reduced to lips and chin, or completely absent. 

Considering that some cave paintings do show the muzzle ring and that others do not, and that the original Augsburg painting showed a very reduced one, aurochs probably also were variable on this trait. It might have been reduced or virtually absent in quite a lot of bulls, particularly old ones, while it probably was present in cows and young individuals on a regular basis.  
Here you have a reconstruction of the Sassenberg bull with a reduced muzzle ring, the way many grown aurochs bulls might have looked like: 

Regarding the actual colour of the muzzle ring, whether it was plain white or just lightly coloured (beige, orangish, reddish, yellow), we have the same situation with the dorsal stripe. It might have varied from individual to individual and historic sources are not precise enough on that.