Wiki-Wednesday – Brontotheriidae

13 02 2008

Brontotheriidae

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brontotheres
Fossil range: Eocene
Brontotherium hatcheri skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC

Brontotherium hatcheri skeleton at the
National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Brontotheriidae

Brontotheriidae, also called Titanotheriidae, is a family of extinct mammals belonging to the order Perissodactyla, the order that includes horses, rhinos, and tapirs. Although brontotheres are probably most closely related to horses, superficially they looked rather like rhinoceroses, although they were not true rhinos. They lived around 56-34 million years ago, from the early to late Eocene.

Characteristics and Evolution

Brontotheres retain four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. Their teeth are adapted to shearing (cutting) relatively nonabrasive vegetation. Their molars have a characteristic W-shaped ectoloph (outer shearing blade).

The evolutionary history of this group is well known, due to an excellent fossil record in North America. The earliest brontotheres, such as Eotitanops, were rather small, no more than a meter in height, and were hornless. Later brontotheres evolved massive body sizes, although some small species, such as Nanotitanops did persist through the Eocene. Some genera, such as Dolichorhinus, evolved highly elongate skulls. Later brontotheres were massive in size, up to 2.5 m in height, and had evolved bizarre hornlike appendages. For instance the North American brontothere Megacerops evolved large sexually dimorphic paired horns above their noses. The sexually dimorphic horns suggest that brontotheres were highly gregarious (social) and males may have performed some sort of head clashing behavior in competition for mates. However, unlike rhinos, the horns of brontotheres are composed of bone, the frontal bone and nasal bone, and were placed side-to-side rather than front-to-back.

Brontotheres probably became extinct due to an inability to adapt to drier conditions and tougher vegetation (such as grasses) that spread during the Oligocene.


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