Wyman also concluded, after making numerous inquiries in La Plata, that the niata cattle transmit their peculiarities or form a race.) Rutimeyer believes that these cattle belong to the primigenius type. (3/65 'Ueber Art des zahmen Europ. Rindes' 1866 s. 28.) The forehead is very short and broad, with the nasal end of the skull, together with the whole plane of the upper molar-teeth, curved upwards. The lower jaw projects beyond the upper, and has a corresponding upward curvature. It is an interesting fact that an almost similar confirmation characterizes, as I am informed by Dr. Falconer, the extinct and gigantic Sivatherium of India, and is not known in any other ruminant. The upper lip is much drawn back, the nostrils are seated high up and are widely open, the eyes project outwards, and the horns are large. In walking the head is carried low, and the neck is short. The hind legs appear to be longer, compared with the front legs, than is usual. The exposed incisor teeth, the short head and upturned nostrils, give these cattle the most ludicrous, self-confident air of defiance. The skull which I presented to the College of Surgeons has been thus described by Professor Owen (3/66. 'Descriptive Cat. of Ost. Collect. of College of Surgeons' 1853 page 624. Vasey in his 'Delineations of the Ox-tribe' has given a figure of this skull; and I sent a photograph of it to Prof. Rutimeyer.) "It is remarkable from the stunted development of the nasals, premaxillaries, and fore-part of the lower jaw, which is unusually curved upwards to come into contact with the premaxillaries. The nasal bones are about one-third the ordinary length, but retain almost their normal breadth. The triangular vacuity is left between them, the frontal and lachrymal, which latter bone articulates with the premaxillary, and thus excludes the maxillary from any junction with the nasal." So that even the connexion of some of the bones is changed. Other differences might be added: thus the plane of the condyles is somewhat modified, and the terminal edge of the premaxillaries forms an arch. In fact, on comparison with the skull of a common ox, scarcely a single bone presents the same exact shape, and the whole skull has a wonderfully different appearance.

The first brief published notice of this race was by Azara, between the years 1783-96; but Don F. Muniz, of Luxan, who has kindly collected information for me, states that about 1760 these cattle were kept as curiosities near Buenos Ayres. Their origin is not positively known, but they must have originated subsequently to the year 1552, when cattle were first introduced. Senor Muniz informs me that the breed is believed to have originated with the Indians southward of the Plata. Even to this day those reared near the Plata show their less civilised nature in being fiercer than common cattle, and in the cow, if visited too often, easily deserting her first calf. The breed is very true, and a niata bull and cow invariably produce niata calves. The breed has already lasted at least a century. A niata bull crossed with a common cow, and the reverse cross, yield offspring having an intermediate character, but with the niata character strongly displayed. According to Senor Muniz, there is the clearest evidence, contrary to the common belief of agriculturists in analogous cases, that the niata cow when crossed with a common bull transmits her peculiarities more strongly than does the niata bull when crossed with a common cow. When the pasture is tolerably long, these cattle feed as well as common cattle with their tongue and palate; but during the great droughts, when so many animals perish on the Pampas, the niata breed lies under a great disadvantage, and would, if not attended to, become extinct; for the common cattle, like horses, are able to keep alive by browsing with their lips on the twigs of trees and on reeds: this the niatas cannot so well do, as their lips do not join, and hence they are found to perish before the common cattle. This strikes me as a good illustration of how little we are able to judge from the ordinary habits of an animal, on what circumstances, occurring only at long intervals of time, its rarity or extinction may depend.

The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication V1 Page 58

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book