Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Hipparion is the name given to an entire genus of now-extinct, yet successful horses that roamed throughout most of the world. They first evolved around 22 million years ago in North America, and from there they spread to Africa, Asia, and Europe over the next 20 million years.

If you looked at Hipparion, you might think it was a small modern horse or pony. They were about the same height and weight... but the legs were a bit... off.

You see, horses didn't always have a single hoof. They are odd-toed ungulates (Perissodactyls) which means that their weight is distributed through a single toe on each leg, rather than between two toes (think of a cloven deer hoof). Early horses started out having several toes, and gradually they lost them all except for that single, central digital. Horse speed can be attributed to the fact that they have longer stride lengths, as they are actually running on a fingernail!

Hipparion moved a lot like a modern horse, which is something we know from looking at fossilized hoof-prints. But even though Hipparion ran on one hoof, it still had some of its other toes! These toes were placed slightly higher up on the leg, one on either side of the hoof, and they did not touch the ground. Modern horses have lost these vestigial toes all together.

The last of the Hipparion species went extinct around 2 million years ago. Though these early equines belonged to the same subfamily as the modern Horses, they are not their descendants.

Status : Extinct for around 2 million years
Location : North America, Europa, Asia, Africa
Size : Height up to 13.3hands (1.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Hipparion

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