Credit: Sven Tränkner | Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt
By Laura Geggel
When a thirsty pregnant horse drank from a freshwater lake 47 million years ago, she was unaware that poisonous volcanic gases might lead to her sudden demise. Now, the fossilized remains of the mare and her tiny, unborn foal are revealing new insights into reproduction in ancient horses, including surprising reproductive similarities with today’s horses, according to a new study.
Researchers found the ancient horse (Eurohippus messelensis) in the Messel Pit fossil site in Germany, a location renowned for its well-preserved fossils that date back to the Eocene Epoch, between about 57 million and 36 million years ago, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The reproductive similarities between ancient and modern-day horses might seem surprising, given the differences in the animals’ size and anatomy. The ancient mare was small — about the size of a modern fox terrier — and had four toes on her front feet and three on her rear feet.
A team from the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt found the fossil in 2000. But in 2009, Jens Lorenz Franzen, a researcher at the Senckenberg Research Institute, and his colleagues studied the specimen with a micro X-ray, and found exquisite details covering the fossil’s surface.
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