Goats Capra hircus, copyright André Karwath.

Belongs within: Caprini.

Capra, the goats, are a genus of bovids adapted for rocky and arid habitats.

The goats
Published 24 July 2007

At least one member of the genus Capra will be familiar to most people—the domestic goat Capra hircus. The goats are a mostly Palaearctic genus of alpine bovid, easily recognised by their distinctive large, ornamented horns. Different sources disagree on just how many species there are, but species are divisible into five distinct ‘horn groups’ (Pidancier et al. 2006).

Nubian ibex Capra nubiana, copyright Nino Barbieri.

The bezoar Capra aegagrus, the ancestor of domestic goats, has long, laterally-compressed, scimitar-shaped horns. The ibex group (Capra ibex and others) also has scimitar-shaped horns, but oval or subtriangular in cross-section with transverse ridges on the front—it is this group that causes problems taxonomically, with some authors recognising a single species and others recognising a number of geographically isolated species. The Pyrenean ibex Capra pyrenaica has lyre-shaped triangular horns. The eastern tur Capra cylindricornis has subtriangular horns curving in an open spiral. The most spectacular horns of all probably belong to the markhor Capra falconeri which has massive corkscrewing horns. There are variations within these groups, of course—the western tur Capra caucasica has less well-developed transverse ridges on its horns than other members of the ibex group, while the extinct Portuguese ibex Capra pyrenaica lusitanica had horns with less of a backwards sweep than the other subspecies of Capra pyrenaica.

Hybridisation between Capra species is apparently not uncommon. The webpage for a 2000 IUCN Workshop on Caprinae Taxonomy refers to hybrids between domestic goats and wild species such as Nubian ibex Capra nubiana, “Asiatic ibex” (I’m not sure if this is supposed to refer to Siberian ibex Capra sibirica or one of the two tur species) and markhor being bred in order to improve stock. Pidancier et al. (2006) suggest that hybridisation may explain why relationships in Capra inferred from mitochondrial cytochrome b (which is maternally inherited) contradict those inferred from Y-chromosome sequences (which are paternally inherited) and morphology. In the former case, the Siberian ibex is sister to all other species, while in the latter, the division is between a clade formed of the markhor, bezoar and domestic goat and a clade of the ibexes and turs. The Pyrenean ibex is very close related to the Alpine ibex Capra ibex (most individuals were even identical in Y-chromosome data) and despite its autapomorphic horn form appears to be a fairly recent derivation from the ibex. I’d also say that the nested position of the Pyrenean ibex and the eastern tur among the more typical ibex forms makes it all the more logical to recognise the isolated ibex populations as separate species. One individual of the eastern tur actually clustered among bezoar sequences from the same location rather than with other tur sequences, providing another possible case of hybridisation (though personally, I’d want to have this checked against the possibility of misidentification or mix-up).

Systematics of Capra

Characters (from Geist 1984): Ears often long, pointed. Knees with callouses. Tails long, flat, with bare underside. Anal glands present; preorbital, groin and foot glands absent. Rump patch small. Males with chin beards, strong-smelling.

Capra Linnaeus 1758L58
|--C. sibirica Pallas 1776FS15, PJ06 [=C. ibex sibiricaPJ06]
`--+--+--C. ibex Linnaeus 1758FS15, L58 [incl. C. carpathorum Koch 1891C-B07, C. prisca (Woldrich 1893)C-B07]
| `--C. pyrenaica Schinz 1838FS15, C-B07
| |--C. p. pyrenaicaPJ06
| |--C. p. hispanicaPJ06
| |--C. p. lusitanicaPJ06
| `--C. p. victoriaePJ06
`--+--+--C. nubiana Cuvier 1825FS15, M01 [=C. ibex nubianaM01]
| `--C. walie Rüppell 1835FS15, M01 [=C. ibex walieM01]
`--+--C. falconeri Wagner 1839FS15, PJ06
| |--C. f. falconeriUSDI77
| |--C. f. heptneriPJ06
| `--C. f. jerdoniUSDI77
`--+--+--*C. hircus Linnaeus 1758GC-BG04 [=C. aegagrus hircusG84]
| `--C. aegagrus Erxleben 1777FS15, GC-BG04 [=C. hircus aegagrusZ01]
| |--C. a. aegagrusPJ06
| |--C. a. blythiPJ06
| |--C. a. chialtanensisPJ06 [=C. falconeri chiltanensisUSDI77]
| `--C. a. creticaPJ06
`--+--C. caucasica Güldenstaedt & Pallas 1783FS15, PJ06 [=C. ibex caucasicaPJ06]
| |--C. c. caucasicaC-B07
| `--C. c. praepyrenaica Crégut-Bonnoure 2002C-B07
`--C. cylindricornis Blyth 1841FS15, PJ06

Capra incertae sedis:
C. ammon Linnaeus 1758L58
C. angorensisT66
C. beden [incl. C. sinaitica]T66
C. cervicapra Linnaeus 1758L58
C. daliiC-B07
C. depressa Linnaeus 1758L58
C. dorcas Linnaeus 1758L58
C. gazella Linnaeus 1758L58
C. grimmia Linnaeus 1758L58
C. hylocrisusK99
C. jeemlaicaK99
C. mambrica Linnaeus 1758L58
C. megacerosM66 [=C. falconeri megacerosUSDI77]
C. pygmea Linnaeus 1758L58
C. reversa Linnaeus 1758L58
C. rupicapra Linnaeus 1758L58
C. severtzowi Menzbier 1887C-B07

Inorganic: Capra hircus minilorientalis Okamura 1987O87

*Type species of generic name indicated


[C-B07] Crégut-Bonnoure, E. 2007. Apport des Caprinae et Antilopinae (Mammalia, Bovidae) à la biostratigraphie du Pliocène terminal et du Pléistocène d’Europe. Quaternaire 18 (1): 73–97.

[FS15] Faurby, S., & J.-C. Svenning. 2015. A species-level phylogeny of all extant and late Quaternary extinct mammals using a novel heuristic-hierarchical Bayesian approach. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 14–26.

[G84] Geist, V. 1984. Goat antelopes. In: Macdonald, D. (ed.) All the World’s Animals: Hoofed Mammals pp. 144–149. Torstar Books: New York.

[GC-BG04] Gentry, A., J. Clutton-Brock & C. P. Groves. 2004. The naming of wild animal species and their domestic derivatives. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 645–651.

[K99] Kennedy, K. A. R. 1999. Paleoanthropology of South Asia. Evolutionary Anthropology 8 (5): 165–185.

[L58] Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii: Holmiae.

[M01] Manlius, N. 2001. Biogéographie et ecologie historique du bouquetin de Nubie en Egypte. Belgian Journal of Zoology 131 (2): 159–172.

[M66] Murie, J. 1866. Notes on the markhore and the chimpanzee. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1866: 35.

[O87] Okamura, C. 1987. New facts: Homo and all Vertebrata were born simultaneously in the former Paleozoic in Japan. Original Report of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory 15: 347–573.

[PJ06] Pidancier, N., S. Jordan, G. Luikart & P. Taberlet. 2006. Evolutionary history of the genus Capra (Mammalia, Artiodactyla): discordance between mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome phylogenies. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40 (3): 739–749.

[T66] Tristram, H. B. 1866. Report on the mammals of Palestine. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1866: 84–93.

USDI (United States Department of the Interior). 1977. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants—republication of list of species. Federal Register 42: 36420–36431.

[Z01] Zeder, M. A. 2001. A metrical analysis of a collection of modern goats (Capra hircus aegagrus and C. h. hircus) from Iran and Iraq: implications for the study of caprine domestication. Journal of Archaeological Science 28: 61–79.

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