Note: It wasn’t this fossil.
[top image: Cornell University Library]
Scientists have discovered a new equine fossil in Ethiopia — a 4.4 million-year-old species named Eurygnathohippus woldegabrieli that had longer legs than its smaller, forest-dwelling ancestors, but still had three toes instead of a single hoof. This allowed it to escape predators like sabre-toothed tigers and hyenas in the open grasslands, but since its teeth suggest it ate both forest brush and grass, it probably lived in both habitats.
“Grasses are like sandpaper,” says Simpson, one of the anatomy professors at Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine who is involved in researching these fossils. “They wear the teeth down and leave a characteristic signature of pits and scratches on the teeth so we can reliably reconstruct their ancient diets.”
The fossil remains of Eurygnathohippus woldegabrieli suggest that the species was “about the size of a small zebra,” or about 10 hands. It was one of several equine species in the Middle Miocene era that were the first horses known to graze.
All I have to say is that must have been some pretty good grass to risk tangling with a sabre-toothed tiger.
[Wikimedia Commons: H. Zell]
Fun fact: The chestnuts and ergots on modern horses’ legs are believed to be a vestigial remnant from ancient equine species. As the toes fused together over millions of years into a single hoof, one of them may have migrated upward to become what we see today as a chestnut.