The Ungulates appear like a hippo, rhino and rodent fused into a single animal. The 19th Century Naturalist Charles Darwin believed them to be the strangest animals yet discovered.
Darwin first collected their fossils 180 years ago, proving their existence. Scientists were baffled about the odd creatures and their origins.
Using a biochemical analysis of bone collagen from the fossils of Toxodon and Macrauchenia, the names of the two Ungulates, researchers found them to be related to a group that includes horses, tapirs and rhinos. Initially, researchers believed them to be of African origin included in the elephant and aardvark families.
Molecular Evolutionary Biologist Ian Barnes, whose research now appears in the Nature journal, said:
“We have resolved one of the last unresolved major problems in mammalian evolution: the origins of the South American native ungulates.”
“Some of Darwin’s earliest thoughts about evolution by means of natural selection were engendered by contemplating the remains of Toxodon and Macrauchenia, which resembled so confusingly the features of a number of other groups, but had died out so recently,” said paleomammalogist Ross MacPhee of New York’s American Museum of Natural History.