The ruminantia is the largest suborder in the Artiodactyla. It contains 66 living genera
and 164 living species The following families are included:
Characteristic features include:
- a complicated four-chambered stomach.
- no incisors on upper jaw
- a long diastema
- incisor-like lower canines.
- metapodial limb bones fused into a single,
elongated cannon bone.
Furthermore, ruminants are generally gracile (slender or light in build) and mostly bear horns
of some description. All the ruminants except the tragulids are in the infraorder
Pecora (the horned ruminants).
: THE CHEVROTAINS or MOUSE DEER.
The chevrotains are a small family of very primitive, forest-dwelling,
deer-like ruminants. They are found in the forests of South East Asia and West Africa,
often close to streams. The smallest are no bigger than a rabbit.
These are the most primitive modern ruminants. They are regarded as
being intermediate between the tylopods and the ruminants. Sometimes they are included
in the Tylopoda, but generally they are considered to belong in the Ruminantia.
A mixture of archaic and derived features demonstrates their status as the most
They show many archaic features:
- no horns/antlers.
- all 4 toes well developed.
- poorly formed 3rd stomach chamber (4 chambers
- upper canines grow continuously.
- their behaviour often similar to pigs (no visual
- incisor-like lower canines.
- no upper incisors.
- 3 pre-molars.
- the mother ingests placenta after birth of lone
|Musk deer skull|
One genus -
of three small, forest-dwelling species. Males lack
antlers - instead they have large canines. The hind legs are longer
than the fore legs and musk deer move fast by
Hopefully the farming of these deer for musk in China
will safeguard their future in the wild. Musk is used in perfume, and
can be removed from the gland without killing the animal.
The deer are characterised best by the presence of
antlers (deciduous horns although they are really just bone without a
horny covering) in the males, although not all members of the family
possess them. The cervids have spent most of their history, and are
still mainly found, in the temperate forests of the northern
hemisphere, although South America was reached in the Pleistocene.
The cheek teeth remain low crowned, as deer are
browsing animals and suffer less wear on their teeth than grazers.
Few features separate them from other ruminants.
is one of the few ruminants to cross to South America after
the Panamanian isthmus formed 2.5 million years ago. Most
cervids are found in the forests of the northern continents,
but the pudu is found in the extreme south of South America,
in Chile and Argentina.
ANTILOCAPRIDAE: THE PRONGHORN
The pronghorn, Antilocapra
, is the only modern member of this
family, which contained 5 genera in the Pleistocene.
The pronghorn has horns that consist of a bone core
covered with keratin, as in bovids, but the keratin is shed every
year like the antlers of deer.
Seventy years of persecution by white settlers
reduced the 50 million pronghorn on the prairies of North America in
1850 to a mere 13,000. Today, their numbers have recovered a little
to 450,000 pronghorns.
The two modern members are the primitive okapi and
the familiar giraffe.
Early giraffids resembled the okapi. Later giraffes included
Sivatherium, a massive, ox-like
animal with huge horns like those of an elk. A piece of ancient Sumerian jewellery
depicts what appears to be a sivathere, suggesting that this animal may have persisted
almost into recorded history.
They are united by:
- skin-covered horns
- a long black tongue
- lobed canine teeth.
This frontal view of a giraffe allows
several important features to be clearly seen. The huge
two-toed hooves carry the animal, and are used as weapons
should a giraffe ever need to discourage the unwanted
attentions of a lion.
Giraffes are accomplished runners too - they
are able reach speeds of 50 kilometres per hour if they feel
The long neck, high shoulders and long legs
all serve to raise the head to a height of up to 6 metres,
allowing it to reach browse out of reach of all other
ungulates, including the elephants.
There are problems associated with this
tremendous height. In order to drink, giraffes must stand
with splayed front legs, or with its fore legs bent
camelopardis (giraffe) skull
The giraffe skull shows typical ruminant features,
but giraffes are unusual in that they are born with horns. The laying
down of extra bone on the forehead and above the eyes can give the
misleading impression of 3 or 5-horned giraffes.
The head of a giraffe, showing the bony,
Giraffes mostly inhabit open woodlands and wooded
grassland in sub-Saharan Africa. They are highly selective feeders,
taking high quality food from trees (males) and tall shrubs
(females). Giraffes do not live in fixed social units, but feed in
Some giraffes are also found in forests.
Giraffes are hunted by subsistence farmers. They may
be farmed in the future, as they browse on plants not used by other
livestock and will hopefully replace sheep and goats which
This hugely successful family includes a total of 120 extant
species of bovid, in 6 sub-families and 4 genera. This family includes the musk-ox,
bison, antelopes, duikers and several species important to man -
cattle, sheep, the yak and goats.
Bovids are found throughout Eurasia, Africa and North America. Africa is probably their stronghold.
There is more variation in form within the family
than between the bovids and other ruminants. They range in size from
the tiny duikers to the huge cape buffalo.
Horns (non-decidious keratin on bony roots) are
usually borne by both sexes.
Many bovids live in herds, probably for defence. This
can be very successful - cape buffalo (below) herds in Africa have
been seen to contain blind and even three-legged members.
A cape buffalo
caffer) and calf.
skull (young heifer).
This skull of a young female domestic cow, and that of the zebra
(Equus burchelli), a
perissodactyl, show several similar features, despite their belonging
to different orders. This is the result of convergent evolution as
both species have skulls adapted for a diet consisting mainly of
Both skulls show:
- many hypsodont, crested teeth to grind up grass,
which contains silicates that rapidly wear down the teeth.
- a long face, and deep lower jaw, to accomodate
- eyes set far back on the skull, allowing a wide
field of sight and some binocular vision.
However, the skulls are still recognisably different
in other respects - the cow lacks upper incisors, for example.
The bovids are divided among 6 subfamilies.
Cattle are probably the most important ungulates for
people. They are used on every continent, having been introduced to
Australia and South America, as either a source of milk, a source of
meat, a source of leather or beasts of burden,
Long-horned cattle in East Africa.
The desire of local inhabitants to
graze their cattle on the plains of Africa brings them into
conflict with the local wildlife. The cattle compete for
grazing with native ungulates,
and are at risk from diseases
carried by other, wild bovids. In addition, the cattle are
at risk from predators.
BUSHBUCK AND WILD CATTLE
Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus).
cafer) are the largest bovids. They
live in herds of up to 350 animals.
Sheep and goats are two of the most commonly
farmed and ecomomically important ungulates. As well as
providing meat and milk they produce wool - soft, curled
hair used the world over to produce garments.
XH19-1.1 Skeleton of lamb
A sheep with lambs.
Sheep are one of the most important
ungulates to man, farmed for their meat and their wool.
There are many different breeds of sheep, the result of
centuries of selective breeding by farmers.
Goats are often herded in semi-arid areas
where there is not enough grazing to support cattle. The
herding of goats in sub-Saharan Africa is a severe problem,
leading to overgrazing and
moschatus skull (frontal view).
The musk-ox is a heavily built animal of the tundra.
The horns of the male musk ox are larger than those of the female.
Herds of musk-ox will form circles of adults facing outward, with the
calves protected in the centre of the circle, as a defence against
Its size, of course, is an adaptation to the extreme
cold as is its huge shaggy coat. Similar adaptations are seen in the
yak of Tibet. Remarkably, yaks ruminate at 40 C, keeping the animals
warm on the cold mountainsides.
XH19-20.1 Ovibos moschatus
skull (side view)
The grazing antelopes (23 species in 11 genera) inhabit the great grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa - while some inhabit wetlands (kob and lechwe) and moist savannah (topi), others inhabit moist grassland and open woodland (hartebeest and wildebeest), and yet others the arid lands (oryx and addax).
Two red lechwe
Lechwe are commonly found
grazing in flooded areas, eating
grasses growing in shalllow water. Lechwe are vulnerable to
hunting and drainage schemes.
ellipsigrymnus) are closely related
East African Topi (Damaliscus lunalatus)
bucephalus) is another antelope
from Africa. Both topi and hartebeest are closely related to the wildebeest.
sp.) and a suckling calf.
Wildebeest (also known as gnu) are
antelopes, although they look rather like buffalo.
They are famous for being found in herds of
hundreds of thousands of animals.These herds migrate in East
Africa in order to find ample grazing.
As in many ungulates, the young are able to
walk within minutes of birth. Calves must be able to run
with the herd should danger threaten.
An Arabian oryx
The incredible horns of all species
of Oryx are distinctive amongst the bovids for their size and straightness.
A scimitar-horned oryx
dammah), showing the impressively
Oryx often live in very dry areas, and can go months without drinking.
An Arabian oryx calf.
The Arabian oryx is very rare and may not be
saved by current captive breeding programs. It was formerly
exterminated in the wild, but was saved from extinction by
the actions of several organisations, including the
government of Oman.
The scimitar-horned oryx is also at risk due
to the grazing of cattle on the borders of the
Sahara.desert. It has become extinct north of the
The addax (Addax
The addax was once distributed across the
whole of the Sahara but its range has shrunk, especially in
the east and the addax is now endangered.
The ancient egyptians domesticate the addax
and the related oryx.
An addax with
calves. Note that the horns have
only recently begun to develop on the calves. The horns of
bovids are covered in keratin (the same material that hair
and nails are made of) and neither the bone inside and the
keratin are shed throughout life.
are another familiar and
abundant type of bovid from the African plains. Females
(above) have smaller horns than males (shown below).
|Cephalophus maxwelli (Maxwell's duiker) skull|
Duikers are mostly forest dwelling animals that occur only in sub-Saharan Africa. Their skulls have thickened and enlarged frontal bones and their short horns grow far back on their skulls. These features appear to be linked to the very hard-heading butting that many species direct at rivals and predators. Maxwell's duiker lives in rainforests and moist savannah in West Africa and feeds on fallen fruits, herbs, shrubs and new shoots.