New research published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology describes a fossil family that illuminates the origin of perissodactyls — the group of mammals that includes horses, rhinos, and tapirs. It provides insights on the controversial question of where these hoofed animals evolved, concluding that they arose in or near present day India.
With more than 350 new fossils, the 15-year study pieces together a nearly complete picture of the skeletal anatomy of the Cambaytherium — an extinct cousin of perissodactyls that lived on the Indian subcontinent almost 55 million years ago.
Among the findings includes a sheep-sized animal with moderate running ability and features that were intermediate between specialized perissodactyls and their more generalized mammal forerunners. Comparing its bones with many other living and extinct mammals, revealed that Cambaytherium represents an evolutionary stage more primitive than any known perissodactyl, supporting origin for the group in or near India