Sunday, 22 February 2015

Some size comparisons

It is interesting how easy we might fail when estimating the size of an animal without appropriate metric reference objects. I experienced it myself when I stroke the Heck bull at the Tierpark Haag and thought that one might be around 150cm tall at the shoulders. I measured him and he turned out to be mere 140cm, the typical size for Heck bulls. It gets even more difficult when we encounter the animal moving in the field, and often they get overestimated. That’s why sometimes crocodiles or komodo dragons are believed to have astounding lengths like eight or six metres, but once shot and measured they turn out to be within the normal size range of their species. But I was surprised that even guessing the size of an animal next to a person on a photo can be rather difficult. I realized that when had a look at this photo of a Heck bull standing next to a man (!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/galerie_940q/image.jpg). The bull looks large and massive, and I estimated it might be well over 145 cm at the shoulders. Then I did calculations assuming that the man next to the bull is 175 and 180cm tall, respectively. And the result was that this bull is 135 cm tall at best.

This inspired me to visualize size comparisons using photos from the web and GIMP. The first one was a comparison of several more or less primitive cattle breeds:
The aurochs is 175 cm tall on this comparison, and the guy somewhere between 175 and 180 cm. The Pajuna 135 cm, the Heck bull 140 and the Lidia in between; the Braunvieh bull is slightly shorter than 160 cm, and the Taurus bull 160 cm tall. The Sayaguesa measures 160 cm, and the Chianina 170 cm. The Wisent is of the same size as the aurochs, which also is its real life size.

Then I overlaid Wisent and Aurochs at the exact same shoulder height:

The aurochs seems to be the slightly larger animal, which is not surprising since the Wisent is has a short and high body. The largest aurochs bulls therefore were likely heavier than the largest Wisent bulls.

The last one is a comparison of aurochs of three different sizes: 180 cm, 170 cm and 160 cm.


  1. Dear Daniel,
    If I wanted to see living animals most similar in appearance to auroch and tarpan, which location/herd would you recommend?
    Vladimir Dinets

    1. Breeds that resemble the European wild horses the most are sturdy ponies/horses with a black dun and perhaps also bay dun colour. Koniks, Hucule and others come to my mind.
      As for the aurochs, its not so easy, because there is not one herd or breed that can ultimately be considered as the most aurochs-like of their kind. Certainly some Taurus cattle are very aurochs-like, some Lidia, Limia, Maronesa and Sayaguesa have herds/individuals that display many aurochs features at once.

    2. Thanks! Are there fully wild herds of Koniks, and what's the best place to see Taurus?

    3. For Taurus cattle, the Lippeaue reserve in Germany is a good place. There are also some good animals at Hortobagy, Hungary.
      There are no fully wild herds of Koniks, but thats a bit a matter of definiton.

    4. Thanks a lot! The reason I'm asking these questions is that I might get a contract for a book "Finding mammals in Europe". For recently extinct species, I'd like to mention the next best thing.

  2. The Roe deer, Red deer and Wild Boar have shrunken considerably since the stone age. To me that would be a reason to give size a low priority in Aurochs backbreeding. What is your opinion on that?

    1. I haven't heard of that yet. But to answer your question, I think that breeding-back should focus on what is known of the aurochs. And that's a size ranging from 180-160 cm, with 150 probably as absolute minimum for bulls. But I think that anything 170+ in breeding-back will stay wishful thinking anyway, most bulls will probably stay somewhere between 150 and 165 cm.

  3. Dear Daniel,

    why black dun and maybe bay dun? Bay is the most frequently found ground color amongst prehistoric wild horses (Ludwig et al, Pruvost et al.). Dun is suspected, but hasn't been identified yet, so we don't know.

    Best wishes,


  4. For comparing the overall proportions of the auroch with the european bison it woul make more sense to scale them the way that their hips are at the same heigth, rather than their spinous processes.