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Eohippus (Hyracotherium)

Eohippus, which means "dawn horse," is considered by many to be an ancestor of modern horses. Some paleontologists, however, believe that this animal may instead have been a "cousin" rather than direct ancestor.

painting of Eohippus

The size of a small dog, Eohippus was about 2 feet long, and 12-14 inches high. It had four hoofed toes on the front feet, 3 hoofed toes on its hind feet, a short face with eyes in the middle, and a short space between the front teeth and the cheek teeth. It lived throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere (Asia, Europe, and North America). Like modern horses, Eohippus was probably a grazing herbivore, feeding primarily on soft leaves and plant shoots.

Eohippus lived during the early Eocene Epoch, up to about 50 million years ago.

The first representative fossils were found in England by comparative anatomist Richard Owen in 1841, and it was he who came up with the scientific name Hyracotherium leporinum. The first full skeleton was found in America by Othniel Marsh in 1876, and it was he who coined the name Eohippus. As more fossils were found it became apparent that Owen's specimens and Marsh's specimen were closely related, and the two species were subsequently placed into the genus Hyracotherium. Although Eohippus is still commonly used to refer to this horse-like animal, that name is now more properly applied to the species which once roamed much of North America.

eohippus skeleton

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
family Paleotheriidae
genus Hyracotherium

Richard Owen

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This page was last updated on 10/05/2017.