Equus is the only surviving genus in the once diverse family of horses. Domesticated about 3,000 years ago, the horse had a profound impact on human history in areas such as migration, farming, warfare, sport, communication and travel.
Where & When?
Species of Equus lived from 5 million years ago until the present. Living species include horses, asses, and zebras. Fossils of Equus are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
How many Equus species are there?
Walker’s Mammals of the World lists seven living species of Equus. These include the domestic horse and its wild cousin, Przewalski’s horse, three species of asses, and three species of zebras.
Note that the wild species all have short manes…while domesticated Equus has a long mane.
Przewalski’s horse is currently the only truly wild horse. It lives in the cooler grasslands of central Asia. The other so-called “wild horses” are feral animals, the descendants of domestic animals that escaped from captivity. The domestic donkey is descended from wild ass ancestors.
Wild asses occur in Asia and Africa, and the striped equines, the zebras and the recently extinct quaggas, are exclusively African. Though horses had been abundant for 50 million years in North America, they all became extinct there 10,000 years ago.
Compare the fossil tooth to the illustrations of typical Equus tooth characteristics and see if you can tell which of the three it most closely resembles. Should our artist reconstruct the animal with or without stripes?
This fossil tooth is most similar to Zebras. Note the deep ectoflexid and the v-shaped linguaflexid. Both of these features are characteristic of zebras.
An Equus skeleton from the Leisey locality in Florida was unveiled at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Paleofest96 and is now in the Florida Museum’s Florida Fossils exhibit. Pictured with the skeleton are its creators, Steve and Sue Hutchins. This husband and wife team combine their talents in sculpture and wood craftsmanship with their enthusiasm for fossils and science to create such displays.
Steve and Sue also prepared the first articulated skeleton of Archaeohippus for the exhibit.