Giant fossil cows -- did they exist?

So many modern mammals had larger versions that existed during the Pleistocene (I think I spelled that correctly) or earlier periods. Did any giant bovines exist?


I don’t think Aurochs count. Aurochs are effectively the same species as domestic cows or at least the same sub genius. Aurochs were the root stock that cows were domesticated from. If they were still around, they would be fertile with currents cows and projects to breed back to Aurochs appear to be fairly successful. They are additionally not prehistoric.

I am not aware of any extinct cows that would normally be considered megafauna.


Modern bovine cattle, i.e., Bos bovis, derived from crosses between various interfertile species of genus Bos, including the Aurochs but also others. (“Cattle” worldwide includes several other species of Bos, such as the yak (Bos grunniens)

The aurochs, Bos primigenius, was a distinct species which survived in forest preserves in Poland and, IIRC, the Russian Caucusus, until the 17th Century, when a combination of wars, slaughter, and general disinterest finally sent them extinct. There were experiments during the 20th Century to “revive the aurochs” by selective breeding to replicate the characteristics of the then-extinct animals from selected breeds of domestic cattle.

The aurochs was marginally larger and heavier than the typical domestic cow or bull, maybe on a par with Longhorns (which are a distinct bteed within B. bovis). They were not enormously larger, though.

I do seem to recall reading a short reference to muych-larger-than-modern wild cattle as part of accounts of Pleistocene megafauna. But no cite to back this.

I am vaguely recalling seeing pictures (from “Prehistoric Creatures”-type books that I looked at way back in the 1970s) of extinct “Ice_Age” bison whose horns were a lot longer than the modern species. I don’t know if the long-horned species was supposed to be any bigger or more massive than their modern counterparts, however!

I have no personal doubt that if Bos primigenius was extant today that Zoologist’s would be debating whether or not it was a distinct species or a subspecies. They recently decided that the dog is a subspecies of wolf.

The Aurochs would answer the OP’s question, however. Not every species had a giant ancestor. The domestic cat ancestor was likely 'cat-sized" for example. The dire wolf (likely not a direct ancestor of todays wolf) was only slightly larger than the modern wolf. No whale has ever been bigger than the Blue Whale.

Generally, domesticated animals are put in the same species with their closest wild relative. I think that would put the Auroch in the same species as the domestic cow, if it were alive in the wild today. This is a convention since the BSC cannot really be applied to domesticated animals. It defines population that regularly interbreed to produce fertile offspring in the wild.

As for the larger bison, there is Bison antiquus which was a bit larger than the bison you see in N. America today-- about 20% larger, with horns about 1 meter in span.

Ok, so what is this a fossil of, then?

“Bison antiquus” is undoubtedly the image that I was recalling from the 1970s. Thanks for properly identifying the species (and confirming my often-faulty memory) for me!

bovus Photoshopicus.

I remembered it from reading “Centenial” years ago. I think they died out as part of the mass megafauna extinction in NA about 12k years ago.

What, no pictures of Babe, the Blue Ox?

This is rough and without great cites:

Bison priscus migrated to NA around 3 Million years ago and developed into Bison latifrons.
*It wasn’t until the Pleistocene epoch that their descendants made the journey from Asia to North America by migrating across the existing land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Such species include the modern bison, Bison bison; the small bison, Bison antiquus; the Eurasian steppe bison, Bison priscus; and the large broad-horned bison, Bison latifrons.

Bison latifrons was one of the first to make the journey out of Asia and was the largest of the known North American species of bison. They lived alongside other bison species until they went extinct some 25-30,000 years ago. Their fossils are scarce and are found only in late Pleistocene layers. A few fossils, including some toe bones and a broken horn core, have been retrieved from the infamous Rancho La Brea tar pits but are otherwise uncommon in that area.

Bison latifrons was an immense animal, standing as much as 8 1/2 feet at the shoulder. They would have been very similar to modern bison in appearance, only larger, with their most distinct feature being a long set of curved horns that protruded outward from the skull and gently arced upwards. Their unique horn spreads are known to have spanned as much as 6 feet tip to tip and possibly longer. They would have been sexually distinguishable by their appearance. The males were larger and more robust, whereas the females were smaller and sported a more slender set of horns.*

Aroudn 20,000 years ago, *Bison latifrons *was replaced by Bison antiquus. *B. antiquus *is the direct ancestor of *B. bison *the modern American Bison, which replaced *B. antiquus *around 10,000 years ago. Bison antiquus was slightly larger than *B.Bison *with longer horns.

IIRC, the largest examples of *bison bison *reach 8.5 feet at the shoulder, so latifrons wasn’t that big.

Wow! A “Tyrannocowasaurus Tex”! Impressive!

Well, since you asked…

You got a cite for that? None of the Bison bison I’ve ever seen were anywhere near that tall, and I’ve seen some that are amongst the largest breeding bulls around at well over 2000lbs. I don’t think I’ve seen any (even those with significant Bison bison athabascae blood) that are even over 8’ at the peak of the hump, let alone at the shoulder.

Oh, I thought you meant the REAL Blue Babe -

I saw her up close and personal - amazing (but admittedly not of the size we’re looking for)!

Can’t find one.

I’ve read (and Wiki confirms) that wisent can be 7.5 feet at the shoulder, and I thought the American bison was bigger.