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Temporal range: Late Miocene–present
Stone Sheep British Columbia.jpg
Stone sheep (Ovis dalli stonei) in British Columbia, 2009
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Caprinae
J. E. Gray, 1821

The subfamily Caprinae,[1] also sometimes referred to as the tribe Caprini,[2] is part of the ruminant family Bovidae,[3] and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine,[4] or, more informally, a goat-antelope (although they are not considered antelopes).

Within this tribe, a prominent clade includes sheep and goats. Some earlier taxonomies considered Caprinae a separate family called Capridae (with the members being caprids), but now it is usually considered either a subfamily within the Bovidae, or a tribe within the subfamily Antilopinae of the family Bovidae, with caprines being a type of bovid.


Skeleton of a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on display at the Museum of Osteology

Although most goat-antelopes are gregarious and have fairly stocky builds, they diverge in many other ways – the muskox (Ovibos moschatus) is adapted to the extreme cold of the tundra; the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) of North America is specialised for very rugged terrain; the urial (Ovis orientalis) occupies a largely infertile area from Kashmir to Iran, including much desert country. The Armenian mouflon (Ovis gmelini gmelini) is thought to be the ancestor of the modern domestic sheep (Ovis aries).

Many species have become extinct since the last ice age, probably largely because of human interaction. Of the survivors:

  • Five are classified as endangered,
  • Eight as vulnerable,
  • Seven as of concern and needing conservation measures, but at lower risk, and
  • Seven species are secure.

Members of the group vary considerably in size, from just over 1 m (3 ft) long for a full-grown grey goral (Nemorhaedus goral), to almost 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) long for a musk ox, and from under 30 kg (66 lb) to more than 350 kg (770 lb). Musk oxen in captivity have reached over 650 kg (1,430 lb).[citation needed]

The lifestyles of caprids fall into two broad classes: 'resource-defenders', which are territorial and defend a small, food-rich area against other members of the same species; and 'grazers', which gather together into herds and roam freely over a larger, usually relatively infertile area.

The resource-defenders are the more primitive group: they tend to be smaller in size, dark in colour, males and females fairly alike, have long, tessellated ears, long manes, and dagger-shaped horns. The grazers (sometimes collectively known as tsoan caprids, from the Hebrew tso'n meaning sheep and goats) evolved more recently. They tend to be larger, highly social, and rather than mark territory with scent glands, they have highly evolved dominance behaviours. No sharp line divides the groups, but a continuum varies from the serows at one end of the spectrum to sheep, true goats, and musk oxen at the other.


Palaeoreas lindermayeri fossil

The goat-antelope, or caprid, group is known from as early as the Miocene, when members of the group resembled the modern serow in their general body form.[5] The group did not reach its greatest diversity until the recent ice ages, when many of its members became specialised for marginal, often extreme, environments: mountains, deserts, and the subarctic region.

The ancestors of the modern sheep and goats (both rather vague and ill-defined terms) are thought to have moved into mountainous regions – sheep becoming specialised occupants of the foothills and nearby plains, and relying on flight and flocking for defence against predators, and goats adapting to very steep terrain where predators are at a disadvantage.

Internal relationships of Caprinae based on mitochondrial DNA.[6]



Pantholops (Tibetan antelope)

Bootherium (Helmeted muskox)

Ovibos (Musk ox)

Capricornis (Serow)

Naemorhedus (Goral)

Ovis (Sheep)

Oreamnos (Mountain goat)

Budorcas (Takin)

Myotragus (Balearic Islands cave goat)

Rupicapra (Chamois)

Ammotragus (Barbary sheep)

Arabitragus (Arabian tahr)

Pseudois (Bharal)

Hemitragus (Himalayan tahr)

Capra (Turs, markhor, ibexes, goats)


Phylogeny based on Hassanin et al., 2009 and Calamari, 2021.[7][8]

Family Bovidae

  • Subfamily Caprinae or Tribe Caprini
Tribe or Subtribe Image Genus Species
Caprini or Caprina Barbary Sheep.png Ammotragus (Blyth, 1840)
Stuffed Arabian Tahr.jpg Arabitragus Ropiquet & Hassanin, 2005
Takin01.jpg Budorcas Hodgson, 1850
  • Takin, Budorcas taxicolor
Walia ibex 2.jpg Capra Linnaeus, 1758
Himalayan Tahr of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuar.jpg Hemitragus (Hodgson, 1841)
Tahr.jpg Nilgiritragus Ropiquet & Hassanin, 2005
Mountain Goat USFWS.jpg Oreamnos Rafinesque, 1817
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep.JPG Ovis Linnaeus, 1758
20170227 0510 HemisNP Bharal.jpg Pseudois Hodgson, 1846
  • Bharal (Himalayan blue sheep), Pseudois nayaur
Gämse (Rupicapra rupicapra) Zoo Salzburg 2014 g-crop.jpg Rupicapra Garsault, 1764
Ovibovini or Ovibovina Nihonkamoshika-akita.JPG Capricornis Ogilby, 1837
Goral Girardinia diversifolia AJTJ.jpg Nemorhaedus Hamilton Smith, 1827
Ovibos moschatus qtl3.jpg Ovibos Blainville, 1816
Pantholopini or Pantholopina Antílope tibetano.jpg Pantholops Hodgson, 1834

Fossil genera[edit]

The following extinct genera of Caprinae have been identified:[9][10]



  1. ^ "Caprinae". IUCN. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  2. ^ Database, Mammal Diversity (2021-11-06), Mammal Diversity Database, doi:10.5281/zenodo.5651212, retrieved 2022-01-30
  3. ^ Gomez, W.; Patterson, T. A.; Swinton, J.; Berini, J. "Bovidae: antelopes, cattle, gazelles, goats, sheep, and relatives". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Definition of CAPRINE". Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  5. ^ Geist, Valerius (1984). Macdonald, D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 584–587. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
  6. ^ Bover, Pere; Llamas, Bastien; Mitchell, Kieren J.; Thomson, Vicki A.; Alcover, Josep Antoni; Lalueza-Fox, Carles; Cooper, Alan; Pons, Joan (July 2019). "Unraveling the phylogenetic relationships of the extinct bovid Myotragus balearicus Bate 1909 from the Balearic Islands". Quaternary Science Reviews. 215: 185–195. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.05.005. S2CID 189965070.
  7. ^ Hassanin, Alexandre; Ropiquet, Anne; Couloux, Arnaud; Cruaud, Corinne (2009-04-01). "Evolution of the Mitochondrial Genome in Mammals Living at High Altitude: New Insights from a Study of the Tribe Caprini (Bovidae, Antilopinae)". Journal of Molecular Evolution. 68 (4): 293–310. doi:10.1007/s00239-009-9208-7. ISSN 1432-1432. PMID 19294454. S2CID 27622204.
  8. ^ Calamari, Zachary T. (June 2021). "Total Evidence Phylogenetic Analysis Supports New Morphological Synapomorphies for Bovidae (Mammalia, Artiodactyla)". American Museum Novitates (3970): 1–38. doi:10.1206/3970.1. ISSN 0003-0082. S2CID 235441087.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2013-11-09. Retrieved 2010-08-11.