STL Science Center

STL Science Center

30 October 2015

Preparing for November

Sigismund von Herberstein (public domain)
Where October was Halloween themed, November will have a very different and fun theme. In the past few years more people, in Australia and the United States at least, have been referring to November as "No Shave November" because of an Australian campaign from 2013 to raise awareness for prostate cancer. November has also been called Dinovember in the past, but considering that we have had many Novembers full of dinosaurs, this No Shave November is going to be different. The most important difference is that we are going to cover some hairy fossil animals. Mammals are not often discussed here (when one considers the number of taxa that have been discussed). When they are, we attend to them with as much love and attention as birds and dinosaurs. The first of the hairy bearded mammals of November is the recently (geologically) extinct large wild ox Bos primigenius, commonly known as the Aurochs. These famed bovids last existed in the wilds of Eurasia and North Africa as recently as 1627 (final record reported from Jaktorów Forest, Poland). Unlike many extinct taxa we actually have direct descendants of these animals that we can document ancestry for, which is quite convenient for the bovine family tree. Two independent domestication efforts of the Aurochs have resulted in the still extant but different from their original stock Zebu cattle of India and Taurine cattle of Eurasia. While domesticated and different, many consider the two domesticated and the stock Aurochs breeds to be the same species, meaning that, while we are going to treat Aurochs as an extinct taxon, Aurcohs is still technically an extant species. The two thoughts are both accepted (one species is generally more widely accepted) but Aurochs was long considered an extinct taxon and as we look at the history of the animal as an extinct wild type, we will also consider the history of domestication of the species and what that means.

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