Ox - Encyclopedia

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OX, strictly speaking, the Saxon name for the males of domesticated cattle (Bos taurus), but in a zoological sense employed so as to include not only the extinct wild ox of Europe but likewise bovine animals of every description, that is to say true oxen, bison and buffaloes. The characteristics of the sub-family Bovinae, or typical section of the family Bovidae, are given in the article Bovidae; for the systematic position of that family see Pecora.

In the typical oxen, as represented by the existing domesticated breeds (see Cattle) and the extinct aurochs, the horns are cylindrical and placed on an elevated crest at the very vertex of the skull, which has the frontal region of great length. The aurochs was a black animal, with a lighter dorsal streak, and horns directed upwards in the shape of a pitchfork, black at their tips, but otherwise whitish. The fighting bulls of Spain, the black Pembroke cattle of Wales, with their derivatives the white park-cattle of Chillingham in Northumberland, are undoubtedly the direct descendants of the aurochs. The black Kerry breed and the black or brown Scotch cattle are also more or less nearly related; and a similar kinship is claimed for the Siemental cattle of Switzerland, although their colour is white and fawn. Short-horns are a modern derivative from cattle of the same general type.. Among other British breeds may be mentioned the Devons and Herefords, both characterized by their red colour; the long-horned and Sussex breeds, both with very large horns, showing a tendency to grow downwards; and the Ayrshire. Polled, or hornless, breeds, such as the polled Angus and polled Suffolk, are of interest, as showing how easily the horns can be eliminated, and thus indicating a hornless ancestry. The white cattle formerly kept at Chartley Park, Staffordshire, exhibit signs of affinity with the long-horn breed. The Channel Island cattle, which are either black or fawn, would seem to be nearly allied to the Spanish fighting breed, and thus to the aurochs. The great white or cream coloured cattle of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland, which have very long black-tipped horns, are also probably not far removed from the aurochs stock.

On the other hand, the great tawny draught cattle of Spain seem to indicate mixture with a different stock, the horns having a double curvature, quite different from the simple one of the aurochs type. There are reports as to these cattle having been formerly crossed with the humped eastern species; and their characteristics are all in favour of such an origin. Humped cattle are widely spread over Africa, Madagascar and India, and form a distinct species, Bos indicus, characterized by the presence of a fleshy hump on the shoulders, the convexity (instead of concavity) of the first part of the curve of the horns, the very large size of the dewlap, and the general presence of white rings round the fetlocks, and light circles surrounding the eyes. The voice and habits of these cattle are also markedly different from those of European cattle. Whether humped cattle are of Indian or African origin cannot be determined, and the species is known only in the domesticated condition. The largest horns are found in the Galla cattle, in which they attain enormous dimensions. In Europe the name zebu is generally applied to the Indian breed, although no such designation is known in India itself.

A third type is apparently indicated by the ancient Egyptian cattle, which were not humped, and for which the name Bos aegyptiacus has been suggested. The cattle of Ankole, on the Uganda frontier, which have immense horns, conform to this type.

A second group of the genus Bos is represented by the IndoMalay cattle included in the sub-genus Bibos (see Bantin, Gaur and Gayal); they are characterized by the more or less marked flattening of the horns, the presence of a well-marked ridge on the anterior half of the back, and the white legs.

FiG. 2. - Strix flammea. More distinct are the bisons, forming the sub-genus Bison, represented by the European and the American species (see Bison), the forehead of the skull being much shorter and wider, and the horns not arising from a crest on the extreme vertex, while the number of ribs is different (14 pairs in bisons, only 13 in oxen), and the hair on the head and neck is long and shaggy. Very close to this group, if indeed really separable, is the Tibetan yak, forming by itself the sub-genus Poephagus. The most widely different from the true oxen are, however, the buffaloes (see Buffalo), which have consequently the most claim to generic distinction. From all other Bovinae they differ by the triangular section of their horns. They are divisible into two groups, an African and an Asiatic, both of which are generally included in the sub-genus, or genus, Bubalus, although the latter are sometimes separated as Buffelus. The smallest member of the group is the anoa of Celebes.

As regards the origin of the ox-tribe we are still in the dark. The structure of their molar teeth affiliates them to the antelopes of the Oryx and Hippotragus groups; but the early bovines lack horns in the female, whereas both sexes of these antelopes are horned.

Remains of the wild ox or aurochs are abundant in the superficial deposits of Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa; those from the brick-earths of the Thames valley indicating animals of immense proportions. Side by side with these are found remains of a huge bison, generally regarded as specifically distinct from the living European animal and termed Bos (Bison) priscus. In the Pleistocene of India occurs a large ox (Bos namadicus), possibly showing some affinity with the Bibos group, and in the same formation are found remains of a buffalo, allied to, but distinct from the living Indian species. Large oxen also occur in the Lower Pliocene of India, although not closely allied to the living kinds; while in the same formation are found remains of bison (or [?] yak) and buffaloes, some of the latter being nearly akin to the anoa, although much larger. Perhaps, however, the most interesting are the remains of certain oxen from the Lower Pliocene of Europe and India, which have been described under the sub-generic (or generic) title of Leptobos, and are characterized by the absence of horns in the females. In other respects they appear to come nearest to the bantin. Remains of extinct bisons, some of gigantic size, occur in the superficial formations of North America as far south as Texas.

See R. Lydekker, Wild Oxen, Sheep and Goats (London, 1898).

(R. L.*)

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