Aurochs

Bos taurus

TAXONOMY

Bos taurus Linnaeus, 1758, Poloniaelig (or Uppsala, Sweden, according to Thomas).

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Wild cattle, wild ox; French: Aurochs; German: Ur. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Body length 118 in (300 cm); shoulder height 68.8-72.8 in (175-185 cm); tail length 55 in (140 cm); weight 1,763-2,204 lb (800-1,000 kg). Sexual dimorphism is moderate, with females 20% smaller than males; males had horns, up to 31.5 in (80 cm), that extended sideways and then turned upwards and forwards. Females had notably smaller horns. The legs were somewhat longer than in domestic cattle, and their forequar-ters were larger than their hindquarters. In northern Europe, the adult males were black-brown with a light streak along the back. This pelage contrasted with a whitish circle around the chin and muzzle. Aurochs were gray-brown in southern Europe and red-brown with a light saddle in Africa.

DISTRIBUTION

The original range of wild aurochs was extensive, stretching from Europe to western Russia, and south to the Middle East and northern Africa. Domesticated breeds are now distributed worldwide, except for Antarctica.

HABITAT

Primarily a species of open forests and woodlands with grassy openings. In Europe, such habitat provided abundant forage in the form of grasses, forbs, and browse. These natural pastures included wet meadows and, in the Pyrenees, sub-alpine parklands. In North Africa, they occupied more open steppe habitat.

BEHAVIOR

Groups consisting of adult females with their calves and sub-adults of both sexes, with adult males living in small all-male groups, except during the mating season.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Beginning in spring and then throughout the summer, aurochs would probably have fed on grasses and forbs, but also browsed on buds and leaves from shrubs and other low vegetation. In fall, they would likely have consumed acorns where available, but still relied primarily on grasses, forbs, and some browse for most of their energy. In winter, they were reported to live on dry leaves in forests. They probably browsed on shrubs and other plants when grasses were unavailable.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygynous. Historical accounts indicate calves were born in May and June after a gestation of nine months. Females proba

bly gave birth first as two-year olds, and males would become fully active in mating by about their fourth or fifth year.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Aurochs is not listed by the IUCN. The last known representatives of the wild form became extinct in Poland in 1627. However, the species in the form of domestic cattle is currently more abundant and widely distributed than ever before.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Aurochs were probably killed for meat and hides by human hunters. However, after domestication, cattle have provided numerous products as well as sources of draft power and transportation. All of these benefits helped facilitate development of human societies and supported agriculture. ♦

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