Some Ancient Equines Were Couch Potatoes

A study from the University of Cincinnati has shown that prehistoric horses in North America didn’t migrate for food or water like Mongolian wild horses and Plains zebras did. The research used geochemical analysis of fossil teeth to prove that the Florida landscape provided everything the horses could need in a small geographic area nearly 5 million years ago.

In contrast, the Przewalski horse of Mongolia traveled as many as 13 miles a day to find water and grass; Burchell zebras in southern Africa would make seasonal migrations that would have them travel as many as 300 miles to follow grass brought on by rain.

The study, completed by geologists in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, was published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Jenelle Wallace, lead author of the study, noted that the Florida horses were fairly sedentary. Horses originated in North America, living on the continent for 55 million years before traveling to Africa and Asia. They then became extinct in North America nearly 12,000 years ago.

Originally browsers of soft leaves in forests, as the horse evolved, so did his teeth, which became longer and bigger to crop coarse grass. Geologists compared strontium isotopes found in horse teeth with the strontium in bedrock in the southeastern parts of the United States. Plants that grow in soil that contains strontium absorb it; horses that eat these plants absorb it from the plants, allowing strontium to serve as a geographic marker.

The study suggests that if animals don’t have to move to find food or water, they won’t.

Read more at Science Daily.

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