The subfamily Caprinae is part of the ruminant family Bovidae,[1] and consists of mostly medium-sized bovids. A member of this subfamily is called a caprine[2], or, more informally, a goat-antelope, however, this term "goat-antelope" does not mean that these animals are true antelopes: a true antelope is a bovid with a cervid-like or antilocaprid-like morphology.

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

and see text

Within this subfamily Caprinae, a prominent tribe, Caprini, includes sheep and goats. Some earlier taxonomies considered Caprinae a separate family called Capridae (whence a caprid), but now it is usually considered a subfamily within the family Bovidae, whence a caprine is a kind of bovid.


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 Rocky 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 European mouflon (Ovis musimon) 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).

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, tassellated 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.


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.[3] 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.

Extant species


Fossil genera

The following extinct genera of Caprinae have been identified:[4][5]

  • Benicerus
  • Boopsis
  • Capraoryx
  • Caprotragoides
  • Criotherium
  • Damalavus
  • Gallogoral
  • Lyrocerus
  • Megalovis
  • Mesembriacerus
  • Neotragocerus
  • Nesogoral
  • Norbertia
  • Numidocapra
  • Oioceros
  • Olonbulukia
  • Pachygazella
  • Pachytragus
  • Palaeoreas
  • Palaeoryx
  • Paraprotoryx
  • Parapseudotragus
  • Parurmiatherium
  • Praeovibos
  • Procamptoceras
  • Prosinotragus
  • Protoryx
  • Pseudotragus
  • Qurliqnoria
  • Samotragus
  • Sinocapra
  • Sinomegoceros
  • Sinopalaeoceros
  • Sinotragus
  • Sivacapra
  • Sporadotragus
  • Symbos
  • Tethytragus
  • Tossunnoria
  • Turcocerus
  • Urmiatherium


  1. 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.
  2. "Definition of CAPRINE". Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  3. Geist, Valerius (1984). Macdonald, D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 584–587. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.
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