Have you ever wondered if a giraffe is related to a horse? They both have hooves, long legs, and herbivorous diets, but they also look very different in many ways. How can we tell if these animals share a common ancestor or not? In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between giraffes and horses, and reveal the surprising truth about their evolutionary relationship.
What are Ungulates?
One way to classify animals is by looking at their feet. Mammals that have hooves on their toes are called ungulates, which means “hoofed”. Hooves are hard and thick coverings that protect the tips of the toes and help the animals walk on rough terrain. There are many kinds of ungulates, such as deer, pigs, cows, sheep, goats, antelopes, and camels.
According to Xtrapets, ungulates were once thought to belong to one family called Ungulata, but later studies showed that they should be divided into two groups based on their anatomy: even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla) and odd-toed ungulates (Perissodactyla)
Even-toed ungulates are mammals that have an even number of toes on each foot, usually two or four. The weight of the animal is distributed evenly between the third and fourth toes, which are usually larger than the others. Some examples of even-toed ungulates are pigs, peccaries, hippos, camels, deer, giraffes, pronghorns, cattle, sheep, and antelopes.
Odd-toed ungulates are mammals that have an odd number of toes on each foot, usually one or three. The weight of the animal is supported mainly by the middle toe, which is usually larger and more hoof-like than the others. Some examples of odd-toed ungulates are horses, zebras, donkeys, rhinos, and tapirs.
Are Giraffes Even-Toed or Odd-Toed?
Giraffes are even-toed ungulates. They have two toes on each foot, which are covered by hooves. Their feet are about 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter and can support their massive weight of up to 1,800 kg (4,000 lbs). Giraffes also have small horns called ossicones on their heads, which are made of bone covered by skin and hair.
Are Horses Even-Toed or Odd-Toed?
Horses are odd-toed ungulates. They have one toe on each foot, which is covered by a large hoof. Their feet are about 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter and can withstand high speeds of up to 88 km/h (55 mph). Horses also have long manes and tails made of hair.
Differences Between Giraffes and Horses
Giraffes and horses have many differences besides their toes. Here are some of them:
- Size: Giraffes are much larger and taller than horses. Giraffes can reach up to 6 m (20 ft) in height and weigh up to 1,800 kg (4,000 lbs), while horses can reach up to 1.8 m (6 ft) in height and weigh up to 600 kg (1,300 lbs).
- Neck: Giraffes have very long necks that can measure up to 2.4 m (8 ft) in length and contain seven vertebrae like most mammals. Horses have shorter necks that measure about 0.9 m (3 ft) in length and also contain seven vertebrae.
- Coat: Giraffes have spotted coats that vary in color and pattern depending on the subspecies. Their spots help them camouflage in their savanna habitat. Horses have solid coats that can be black, brown, chestnut, bay, gray, white, or roan. Their coats help them regulate their body temperature.
- Diet: Giraffes are browsers that feed on leaves, fruits, and flowers of woody plants, especially acacias. They use their long tongues to pluck the food from the branches. Horses are grazers that feed on grasses and other herbaceous plants. They use their teeth to crop the food from the ground.
- Stomach: Giraffes have four stomachs that help them digest the tough plant material they eat. They regurgitate and chew their food again before swallowing it for the final digestion. Horses have one stomach that can digest both cellulose and starch.
- Heart: Giraffes have small hearts relative to their body size, weighing about 11 kg (25 lbs) and pumping about 60 liters (16 gallons) of blood per minute. Their hearts have thick walls and high blood pressure to overcome the gravity and pump the blood to their brains. Horses have large hearts relative to their body size, weighing about 4 kg (9 lbs) and pumping about 150 liters (40 gallons) of blood per minute. Their hearts have thin walls and low blood pressure to allow the blood to flow easily through their bodies.
- Gait: Giraffes walk by moving both legs on the same side of their body at the same time, which is called pacing. This gives them a swaying motion that helps them balance their long necks. Horses walk by moving their legs in a diagonal pattern, which is called trotting. This gives them a smooth and steady motion that helps them conserve energy.
Similarities Between Giraffes and Horses
Despite their differences, giraffes and horses have some similarities as well. Here are some of them:
- Herbivores: Both giraffes and horses are herbivores, meaning they eat plants. They are adapted to their different diets by having different types of teeth, tongues, and digestive systems.
- Hooves: Both giraffes and horses have hooves on their toes, which are hard and thick coverings that protect their feet and help them walk on rough terrain. They also have similar structures in their hooves, such as the sole, the frog, the wall, and the laminae.
- Social: Both giraffes and horses are social animals that live in groups. Giraffes live in herds of related females and their offspring or bachelor herds of unrelated males. They are gregarious and may gather in large aggregations. Horses live in bands of mares and foals led by a dominant stallion or bachelor groups of young males. They are territorial and may defend their resources from other groups.
- Communication: Both giraffes and horses communicate with each other using vocalizations, body language, and scent. Giraffes make sounds such as hums, moans, snorts, coughs, and bleats. They also use their posture, ears, tail, and ossicones to express their mood. Horses make sounds such as neighs, whinnies, nickers, snorts, and squeals. They also use their posture, ears, tail, and eyes to convey their emotions.
- Life span: Both giraffes and horses have similar life spans in the wild and in captivity. Giraffes can live up to 25 years in the wild and up to 28 years in captivity. Horses can live up to 30 years in the wild and up to 40 years in captivity.
Is a Giraffe Related to a Horse?
So, is a giraffe related to a horse? The answer is yes, but not very closely. According to Wikipedia, giraffes and horses are both ungulates, meaning they have hooves on their toes. However, they belong to different groups of ungulates: giraffes are even-toed ungulates while horses are odd-toed ungulates.
This means that they share a common ancestor that lived millions of years ago, but they have evolved differently since then. According to Evolutionary Transitions in the Fossil Record of Terrestrial Hoofed Mammals by Donald R. Prothero, ungulates originated in the early Eocene epoch about 55 million years ago from small mammals that had five toes on each foot.
The even-toed ungulates diverged from the odd-toed ungulates about 48 million years ago in the late Eocene epoch. The even-toed ungulates evolved into various groups such as pigs, hippos, camels, deer, giraffes, pronghorns, cattle, sheep, and antelopes. The odd-toed ungulates evolved into various groups such as horses, zebras, donkeys, rhinos, and tapirs.
The closest living relatives of giraffes are okapis, which are also even-toed ungulates that live in the rainforests of Central Africa. The closest living relatives of horses are zebras and donkeys, which are also odd-toed ungulates that live in various habitats around the world.
Giraffes and horses are both amazing animals that have adapted to their environments in different ways. They have many differences in their size, physical characteristics, classifications, and way of life. They also have some similarities in their diet, hooves, social behavior, communication, and life span.
They are related to each other as ungulates or hoofed mammals but not very closely as they belong to different groups of ungulates: even-toed ungulates for giraffes and odd-toed ungulates for horses