The newly discovered buffalo Bubalus cebuensis was much smaller than its living relatives, the tamarau and the water buffalo. Drawing: Velizar Simeonovski / Field Museum, Chicago
Read aloud Until about 10, 000 years ago lived on the Philippine island of Cebu a hitherto unknown Zwergwasserbüffel, which was no bigger than a St. Bernard. This is what American and Philippine paleontologists discovered when they examined a partial skeleton that had been discovered almost 50 years ago. The small buffalo, which the scientists christened after its locality Bubalus cebuensis, belonged accordingly to the type of the Asian buffalo and had for its small size unusually large teeth and feet. With an estimated weight of 160 kilograms and a shoulder height of less than 80 centimeters, he was compared to his living relatives who bring it to over 900 kilograms and more than 1.80 meters in height, a real little thing. Of the mini-buffalo, only two teeth, two vertebrae, two foreleg bones, one foot bone and two hoof bones are preserved today. She had discovered a mining engineer in a tunnel on the Philippine island of Cebu when he was digging for phosphate-containing minerals. However, it was not until much later, after the bones had been handed over to the Field Museum in Chicago, that it became clear that they were the remains of a hitherto unknown buffalo species. So far, researchers have not been able to determine the exact age of the bones, but they suspect that the little buffalo lived on the island for almost 100, 000 years and died out at the earliest 10, 000 years ago.

Like many other animals that live isolated on islands, the researchers also thought that B. cebuensis evolved from a much larger ancestor. However, with no enemies in their habitat, an imposing size was no longer necessary, and due to the limited food supply on the small island, dwarfism was likely to have benefits for the animals, the scientists explain. A similar phenomenon can be found in a still living relatives of the dwarf buffalo, which also occurs only on a single Philippine island Tamarau. He is with just under a meter of shoulder height and up to 300 kilograms of weight, although larger than B. cebuensis, but still significantly smaller than the water buffalo.

The discovery of the mini-buffalo may, according to the researchers, help to better understand the emergence of such unusually small species in isolated habitats. Among other things, this is important for the debate about the potential dwarf man Homo floresiensis, also called Hobbit, which was discovered in 2003 on the Indonesian island of Flores. After all, show the little buffalo that dwarf shapes in the isolation of an island can form very quickly, the scientists.

Darin Croft (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland) et al .: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 87, p. 1037 ddp / Ilka Lehnen-Beyel advertisement


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