CHICAGO--Almost 50 years ago, Michael Armas, a mining engineer from the central Philippines, discovered some fossils in a tunnel he was excavating while exploring for phosphate. Forty years later, Dr. Hamilcar Intengan, a friend of his who now lives in Chicago, recognized the importance of the bones and donated them to The Field Museum.
If not for the attention and foresight of these two individuals, science might never have documented what has turned out to be an extremely unusual species of dwarf water buffalo, now extinct.
The new species, described in the October issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, has been named Bubalus cebuensis (BOO-buh-luhs seh-boo-EN-sis) after the Philippine island of Cebu, where it was found. Its most distinctive feature is its small size. While large domestic water buffalo stand six feet at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, B. cebuensis would have stood only two-and-one-half feet and weighed about 350 pounds.
B. cebuensis, which evolved from a large-sized continental ancestor to dwarf size in the oceanic Philippines, is the first well-supported example of "island dwarfing" among cattle and their relatives.
"Natural selection can produce dramatic body-size changes. On islands where there is limited food and a small population, large mammals often evolve to much smaller size," said Darin Croft, lead author of the study and a professor of anatomy at Case Western Reserve University.
Significant finding on several levels
Water buffalo are members of the cattle family and are placed in the genus Bubalus, which includes four living species. Two species, Bubalus bubalis and B. mindorensis are closely related, and the new fossil species appears to be a close relative of this pair.
B. bubalis is the well-known domestic water buffalo. B. mindorensis, popularly known as a tamaraw, is also a dwarf, although at about three feet tall at the shoulder and 500 pounds it is considerably
Contact: Greg Borzo