Like all life forms, elephants evolved over time from ungulates (correctly called) to near-ungulates or sub-ungulates, as they are called today. Their unusually shaped feet closely resemble those of ungulates, hence the name. This is not surprising, since fossil evidence suggests that more diverse elephant species once existed, with body structures that classify them as ungulates.
However, modern elephants evolved less similar ungulate traits. Here in this article are more details about elephants and most importantly, the answer to the question Are elephants ungulates?
What are ungulates?
The term ungulate is used to classify mammals with ungulate feet. The hooves are the strong, horny layers that cover the toes of such animals. It acts as a tough skin covering that protects the tissues and bones inside the ungulate’s foot. It also supports their overall body weight while exercising. As you may recall, horses, cows, goats, oxen, and rhinos are ungulates; so they are ungulates.
The ungulates are further subdivided into the orders Persistodactyla and Artiodactyla, denoting odd-toed and even-toed ungulates, respectively. Contrary to their names, Artiodactyla and Persistodactyla are not called anodactylus or artiodactyla because of the number of toes they possess. In contrast, odd-toed ungulates have been known to put all their body weight on three toes, or only the middle toe. Even-toed ungulates, on the other hand, put their weight on the third and fourth toes. Hence the names odd toes (three or one toes) and even feet (two toes).
Examples of odd-toed ungulates include horses, donkeys, rhinos, and zebras, while deer, camels, pigs, goats, sheep, giraffes, antelopes, and wildebeests are examples of artiodactyls.
Although ungulates vary in size and habitat choice, they share many common characteristics. Except for pigs and wild boars, they are all herbivores. As such, you may find that they are primarily ruminants adapted to a plant-based diet. They are also prey. Their lack of appetite for meat makes them vulnerable to predators. However, animals such as wild boar and antelope have horns and antlers to protect themselves. The huge size of rhinos also works in their favor.
In general, ungulates evolved flexible legs and feet to allow for rapid flight in the face of danger. This is evident in horses, antelope and deer. Together, they serve a tangible role in our ecosystem; providing milk and meat, and continuing to disperse seeds.
You may be wondering how the Daesh fit into this extended family. That’s it. The evolutionary transition of the extinct group of ungulates shows that large elephants with ungulates belonged to the order Proboscis. That would qualify them as ungulates, right? These species are known as African elephants and Indian elephants. However, there is some controversy among paleontologists over the tangible link between fossil evidence of the extinct species and modern elephant species. This calls into question their status as true ungulates.
What are some examples of ungulates?
Until recently, ungulates were strictly divided into the orders Persistodactyla and Artiodactyla. However, research and discovery of genetic links between seemingly disparate and newly discovered species has opened the scaffolding. Examples of ungulates now include elk, caribou, gazelle, pronghorn, newly discovered deer, bison and moose.
Unfortunately, the new discoveries of these ungulate mammals have not translated into an increase in the overall population of these animals. Some ungulates are threatened with extinction due to hunting by humans.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has included giraffes, mountain and Malayan tapirs, sambar, Sumatran rhinos and zebras, among others, on its Red List. That’s not to say conservation efforts are futile. However, the survival of these animals is critical to the continued balance of our ecosystems.
Why aren’t elephants ungulates?
Elephants don’t have hooves, so they don’t fall into the broad category of odd-toed or even-toed ungulates. Even though they are herbivores, they still do not belong to the ungulate family because they do not have hoofed feet.
Ungulates are characterized by the structure of the feet and the way they walk. The hoof is made of a keratin outer layer called unguis. Elephants, on the other hand, have five toes on each foot, although their toenails vary from species to species.
Asian elephants have five toenails on their front feet and four on their back feet. Meanwhile, the African shrub species has four toenails on the front feet and three on the back feet. These nails are made of the same material as the hooves (keratin) of ungulates. But elephant feet are not angular, but broad stump-like feet with fat pads underneath.
When walking or standing, ungulates touch the ground with their hooves. This means that the tissue and bones that make up the toe are covered by a shell. So their toes are protected by their hooves during movement and pause. The strength of the hoof also provides support for body weight. Picture a rhino, which typically weighs over 4,000 pounds, putting all of its weight on its toes. They must be strong!
For elephants, locomotion is done with the tips of the toes. The movement pattern not only helps to keep the toes in line, but also puts the weight on the heel which is covered by the fat pad. The pads are cushioned to hold excess weight on the bones, preparing them for long walks in search of food.
Daxiang means row or row row?
Animals that walk on land can also be classified based on how their feet work, or move. These animals are divided into three groups based on how much contact their feet make with the ground as they move: ungulates, toddlers, and plant animals. Pods such as pigs, cows, and deer are animals that walk on hooves, while tods walk on fingers or toes. Plantigrades keep their entire feet on the ground when walking like humans and bears.
Of the three groups, the big ones are clearly the toeds, since they are used to walking on their toes. This practice keeps their nails healthy and manicured. Also, cats and dogs are examples of animals that walk on tiptoes while always raising their wrists.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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