Study: Longhorns direct descendants of cattle Columbus brought to New World

AUSTIN, Texas — University of Texas mascot Bevo’s ties to Texas are older than the state itself, new research shows.

According to a study by University of Texas researchers, longhorns are direct descendants of cattle that Christopher Columbus brought to the New World on his second voyage in 1493.

Those cattle were the first in the New World, and their descendants arrived in what would become Texas near the end of the 17th-century, according to the study, which was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a real Texas story, an American story,” said Emily Jane McTavish, a doctoral student who, with biology professor David Hillis and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Columbia, analyzed almost 50,000 genetic markers from 58 cattle breeds.

Most of the Longhorn genome is descended from aurochs, the ancestor of domestic cattle that lived in the Middle East 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, the research showed. The other 15 percent comes from other ancient aurochs in India, whose descendants have a hump at the back of the neck.

As Moors moved from the Middle East through Northern Africa and into the Iberian peninsula from the eighth to the 13th centuries A.D., they brought cattle that mixed with European breeds, researchers said.

“All those influences come together in the cattle of the Iberian peninsula,” said Hillis, who raises longhorns at the Double Helix Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

In the New World, most of the cattle went feral and adapted with characteristics to help them survive the hot, dry conditions, such as becoming leaner and growing longer horns for defense, researchers said.

After the Civil War, Texans started rounding up longhorns to supply beef to the rest of the country, researchers said.

Today, of course, longhorn can be seen on ranches throughout Texas and roaming the sidelines of UT football games.