Buffalo vs Ox: All Differences Explained

Differences Between a Buffalo and Ox

It is quite common for people to assume that a buffalo and an ox are the same animals. In various cultures, the names “buffalo” and “ox” are generally used to refer to the same horned beast used to haul carts, plows, and farm equipment.

Their physical appearances are different. They have different ancestries. One is the descendant of a long-extinct bovine species that once roamed across three continents. The other is a descendant of an endangered variety that is still holding out in the untamed regions of India and Southeast Asia. One is relatively restricted to the tropical climate conditions and terrains of Asia. The other has been bred to produce different varieties that can survive on different continents. 

Traits That Separate A Buffalo From An Ox

1. Habitat 

The domestic buffalo ( Bubalus bubalis ) is native to India, China, and Southeast Asia. It is more commonly referred to as the water buffalo due to its propensity to wallow either in rivers or in mudholes, which they gouge with their horns. Water buffaloes are well-suited to the hot and humid forests and plains of Asia. Due to domestication, they can live in a variety of terrain as long there is a body of water nearby where they can wade and cool off.

The domesticated ox ( Bos taurus ) are descendants of the free-roaming bovines that once roamed across North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. These wild bovines are now either extinct in some continents or significantly few in others. Nevertheless, the domesticated ox is found worldwide, where they are still very much part of farm and livestock industries. In India, an ox is revered as a divine creature.

2. Size And Appearance 

A fully grown male water buffalo tips the scales at around 1.5 tons and stands at around 2 meters at the shoulders. It is about 2.5 meters in length. They have a powerful physique. It is often noted that the water buffalo is stronger than cattle and oxen. The body of a water buffalo is hairless and is usually black. They have long and narrow faces and intelligent eyes. Their lower leg and hooves are wide, making them well-adapted to moving on soft mud, rice paddies, and river bottoms.

Depending on the breed variety, a fully grown ox can weigh between 900 pounds to about 1.6 tons and stand somewhere north of 2 meters. Unlike water buffaloes that are hairless, domestic ox varieties have shaggy fur, making them suitable work animals in harsh and cold climates.

3. Shape of Horn

Among bovines, water buffaloes have the longest horns. The horns of a mature buffalo bull averages 2 meters in length. They curve away from the face in a crescent pattern. The surface of the horns has a rough and wrinkled texture.

In contrast, the horns of domesticated oxen are shorter and are either slightly curved or straight. But depending on the breed, the size of the horns of some ox may vary in length.

4. Reason For Domestication

These beasts were domesticated from wild water buffaloes ( Bubalus arnee ). 0Water buffaloes Buffalos domesticated in Southeast Asia around 6000 years ago, in India around 5000 years ago, and in China around 4000 years ago. Water buffaloes were domesticated to serve as draft animals. Their most common use is pulling plows through the wet and sticky farmlands in tropical and subtropical Asia. 

Their wide hooves, powerful bodies, fondness for water, and durability in the hot and humid conditions made them the perfect draft animals in Asia’s south and southeast regions. Water buffaloes are not bred for meat. But in certain areas in Asia, particularly the Philippines, they are an alternative to cows as sources of farm-fresh milk. 

Oxen generally refer to male bovines that are castrated so that they become more docile as draft animals. They are thought to have been first domesticated in Mesopotamia some 10,000 years ago. Today, they are found nearly everywhere in the world where agriculture is still the main economic activity. As with the water buffalo, they were domesticated from the wild ox to serve as beasts of burdens. Aside from plowing, they are also yoked to threshing machines or irrigation apparatuses. Unlike the more powerful and durable water buffalo. oxen are usually yoked in pairs. In some cases, several pairs of oxen may be used to pull heavy loads over difficult terrain. Oxen are not bred and raised for meat. 

5. Diet

Water buffaloes subsist on grass, herbs, and aquatic plants. They generally graze early in the morning and at night to take advantage of the cooler weather. 

Unlike water buffaloes, oxen require large pastures to feed on. They will also feed on moss and lichen. Due to their status as draft animals, their regular grass diet is regularly supplemented with grain and processed fodder. 

6. Behaviour

Water buffaloes are especially fond of water. It is common to find them wading in relatively deep rivers. When there is no nearby body of water, they will gouge moist ground with their horns to create shallow mudholes where they could wallow. They frequently stay in the water or mud to cool off and keep away flies, mosquitoes, and parasites. 

Although they are generally docile, water buffaloes can become highly aggressive during mating season. They will charge and maul threats with their longhorns. Water buffaloes are also known to have long memories. Therefore, they will remember abusive treatments and may potentially respond with aggression. 

Oxen are very docile and are easy to train. Their docile nature can be attributed to the fact that they are castrated early in their lives to become more tractable. 

7. Genetics

Although both the water buffalo and the ox have been domesticated for the same purpose, they have entirely different evolutionary origins. The domesticated water buffaloes are descendants of the wild water buffalo. The wild water buffalo ( B. arnee ) are found only in the Indian subcontinent and in the Southeast Asian region. The wild water buffalo and its domesticated descendants are genetically evolved to adapt and thrive in the humid conditions of tropical and subtropical Asia. 

On the other hand, oxen and cattle are descendants of the aurochs ( Bos primigenius ). They were first domesticated around 10,00o years ago, producing the lineage from which modern oxen and cattle came. The aurochs was once a species of large and wild oxen that were endemic to Asia, Europe, and Africa. The aurochs were significantly larger than their domesticated descendants. 

Questions and Answers

Are Water Buffaloes Aggressive To Humans? 

Yes. Water buffaloes are gentle creatures. But when they are threatened or in their mating seasons, they will attack at the slightest provocation. They have been known to maul people. They can even go head to head with apex predators such as tigers and lions. Although they appear big and slow, water buffaloes have been documented to charge at speeds close to 30 mph! 

Are Water Buffaloes Raised For Beef? 

No. Although there are maybe instances where they are killed for meat, this is not always the case for water buffaloes. Their meat is too tough to be part of the regular human diet. In Southeast Asia, there is a stigma against eating water buffalo meat. So they are prized for their service as draft animals that eating them is strongly discouraged. In the Philippines, selling water buffalo meat is illegal. 

Are Oxen Different From Cattle? 

Yes. Oxen are bred and raised as draft animals. This means that they are trained to the yoke and bred pull heavy equipment such as carts and plows. Cattle, on the other hand, are raised for their beef and their milk. 

Are Oxen Worshipped In India? 

No. The idea of oxen, cattle, and cows being worshipped is a misconception. The ox is not a deity. Instead, they are respected because their dietary behavior mirrors the vegetarian culture prevalent in India. Indians see the ox as a gentle creature who sacrifices its strength so that the soil will yield its produce. 

Is There Another Name For The Water Buffalo?  

Yes. In the Philippines, the water buffalo is known as “carabao”. The term is derived from the Malay word “kerbau”, which also refers to the same animal. 

Do Water Buffaloes Live Long? 

Yes. Domesticated varieties, in particular, can live for as long as 40 years. 

Do Oxen Live Long? 

Yes, but not as long as water buffaloes. The life expectancy of oxen and cattle is around 20 years. 

Can a Water Buffalo Bull Mate With a Cow? 

No. Water buffaloes and ox/cattle are distantly related. In addition to genetic differences, they also have different temperaments. Bison and oxen, on the other hand, are closely related.