Mysterious Bison Hybrid Revealed from Ancient DNA and Cave Paintings
Clever detective work involving research on both ancient DNA and cave paintings from the last ice age has revealed a previously unknown species of hybrid bison, according to a new study.
Researchers initially nicknamed the newfound bison the "Higgs Bison," because, just like the once-elusive subatomic particle known as the Higgs Boson, the bison's very existence had never been confirmed, and it took about 15 years to piece together data that proved its existence.
But now, thanks to ancient DNA from the creatures' bones, researchers know that the mysterious bison was a hybrid animal that originated more than 120,000 years ago, when the extinct aurochs (the ancestor of modern cattle) and the ice-age steppe bison got together, the researchers said. [See Photos of the Cave Art That Helped Experts Crack the Bison Mystery]
Usually, hybrid animals aren't too successful, mainly because the males tend to be sterile, said the study's senior researcher Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide in Australia. But the newfound hybrid bison did quite well for itself and its descendants, the modern-day European bison (Bison bonasus), which is also known as a wisent. The European bison are still alive today, he said.
Credit: Carole Fritz