News of the WeekPaleontology

Dietary Data Straight From the Horse's Mouth

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Science  05 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5403, pp. 773
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5403.773

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Horses and grasses have a long history together, or so paleontologists have thought. When modern grasses appeared some 20 million years ago, the thinking went, the teeth of ancient equines evolved to crop this new food, developing the high crowns seen in modern horses, and their owners changed from deerlike browsers of shrubs and trees to pure grazers. But on page 824 of this issue, paleontologists show that in horses, at least, the tooth can fool the eye. By analyzing tooth wear and chemical traces in the teeth, the researchers found that some of the closest ancient relatives of today's horses were primarily browsers--despite having teeth shaped like those of a grazer.