Named By: Othniel Charles Marsh - 1875.
Synonyms: Anchitherium celer.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Equidae, Anchitheriinae.
Species: M. bairdi, M. barbouri, M. braquistylus, M. equiceps, M. hypostylus, M. intermedius, M. latidens, M. longiceps, M. metulophus, M. montanensis, M. obliquidens, M. proteulophus, M. westoni.
Size: 60 centimetres (6 hands) high at the shoulder.
Known locations: Canada & USA.
Time period: Bartonian of the Eocene through to Rupelian of the Oligocene.
Fossil representation: Multiple specimens.
horse’ may seem an uninteresting name for a prehistoric horse, but
Mesohippus is actually one of the most important.
The middle horse
name is actually a reference to the position of Mesohippus
relation to earlier forms like Hyracotherium
and larger and later forms
like we know today. Aside from having longer legs, Mesohippus
had three toes in contact with the ground rather than the four seen in
Hyracotherium. The centre toe was the main weight
and overall the construction of the foot and larger size reveals that
Mesohippus would be the faster horse.
By having longer legs, Mesohippus could cover a greater amount of ground during foraging while expending a reduced amount of energy in doing so. However this adaptation may have also been pushed by the emergence of predators such as Hyaenodon and nimravids (false sabre-toothed cats) that would have been too powerful for Mesohippus to fight. As such the best chance that Mesohippus had of staying alive was to quite literally run for its life and try to outpace and outlast its attacker. Unfortunately for Mesohippus this was not always a successful strategy, with fossils revealing that Mesohippus was a prey animal for the aforementioned Hyaenodon. Despites its position lower down on the food chain however, Mesohippus was the evolutionary success story as its progeny would go on to become larger and faster running horses, while both predators like Hyaenodon and the nimravids would eventually disappear from the planet without any surviving descendants.
Mesohippus was similar to another primitive horse named Anchitherium. In fact one species of Anchitherium, A. celer has been found to be a synonym to Mesohippus bairdi.