Temporal range: Late Pliocene to Holocene
The Aurochs, or urus, (Bos primigenius) was a large species of cattle, once common in Europe but now extinct. It was a wild animal, not a domesticated animal. The extinct aurochs/urus is a completely separate species from the wisent (the European bison).
According to the Paleontologisk Museum, University of Oslo, aurochs developed in India some two million years ago, came into the Middle East and farther into Asia, and reached Europe about 250,000 years ago. They were once thought a different species from modern European cattle (Bos taurus), but today not any more.
Modern cattle have become much smaller than their wild ancestors: the height of a large domesticated cow is about 1.5 meters (5 feet, 15 hands), while aurochs were about 1.75 meters (5.75 feet, 17 hands).
Aurochs also had several features not often seen in modern cattle, such as lyre-shaped horns set at a forward angle, a pale stripe down the spine, and different color according to the gender. Males were black with a pale stripe down the spine, while females and calves were reddish (these colours are still found in a few domesticated cattle breeds, such as Jersey cattle). Aurochs were also known to have very aggressive behaviour, and killing one was seen as an act of courage in ancient cultures.
At one time there were three aurochs subspecies, namely Bos primigenius namadicus (Falconer, 1859) that occurred in India, the Bos primigenius mauretanicus (Thomas, 1881) from North Africa and the Bos primigenius primigenius (Bojanus, 1827) from Europe and the Middle East. Only the European subspecies survived until recent times.
- The word is both singular and plural.
- The animal's first scientific name, Bos primigenius, was meant as a Latin translation of the German term Auerochse or Urochs, which was they thought meant "primeval ox" or "proto-ox". Today, ITIS say this name is wrong. They classify aurochs under Bos taurus, the same species as domestic cattle. In 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature "conserved the usage of 17 specific names based on wild species, which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic forms" (http://www.iczn.org/BZNSep2006general_articles.html) confirming Bos primigenius for the Aurochs. Taxonomists who consider domesticated cattle a subspecies of the wild Aurochs should use B. primigenius taurus; the name B. taurus remains available for domestic cattle where it is considered to be a separate species.
- The word Aurochs (how to say: /ˈaʊrɒks/ or /ˈɔrɒks/) comes to English from German. The use in English of the plural form aurochsen is the same as the German plural and just like English ox (sg), oxen (pl). The word urus (/ˈjʊərəs/) comes to English from Latin, but came to Latin from Germanic origins. AHD4, headword urus. The words aurochs, urus, and wisent have all been used synonymously in English. AHD4, headwords aurochs, urus, wisent. MWU, headwords aurochs, urus, wisent.
- Height of Holstein cows
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition (AHD4). Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Headwords aurochs, urus, wisent.
- Bunzel-Drüke, M. 2001. Ecological substitutes for wild horse (Equus ferus Boddaert, 1785 = E. przewalslii Poljakov, 1881) and Aurochs (Bos primigenius Bojanus, 1827). Natur- und Kulturlandschaft, Höxter/Jena, 4, 10 p. AFKP. Online pdf (298 kB)
- Garfield, Richard van. 1995. Magic the gathering: gatherer search: Aurochs. http://gatherer.wizards.com/?first=1&last=100&term=aurochs&Field_Name=on&Field_Rules=on&Field_Type=on&setfilter=Allsets&colorfilter=All
- International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2003. Opinion 2027 (Case 3010). Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved. Bull.Zool.Nomencl., 60:81-84.
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