This summer, Carolyn Rounds visited the UCMP to study our Moropus fossils. Carolyn is a grad student in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. And Moropus is an extinct horse-like creature, part of a taxonomic group called chalicotheres.
Chalicotheres are pretty unique — they had claws instead of hooves. They didn’t use their claws to rip apart prey; they were herbivores, and they probably used their claws to pull vegetation down from trees. Chalicotheres lived in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa; they are all now extinct. Chalicotheres are part of a larger group, the perissodactyls, or odd-toed ungulates. Living perissodactyls include horses, zebras, tapirs, and rhinos.
For her Masters degree, Carolyn is describing a species of Moropus that has not been described before — a new species. Here at the UCMP, she’s looking at fossils from the Flint Hill formation in South Dakota. The differences between Carolyn’s Moropus and the species that have already been described are subtle. The facets of the ankle bones — where the bones meet each other — have a slightly different shape than other species. The vertebrae of this species are also a bit different. Carolyn is taking careful notes and making beautiful drawings of the UCMP fossils, so she can compare them to fossils she’s examining at other museums. This summer, she’s making a grand tour of natural history museums. So far, she’s visited The American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the University of Nebraska State Museum, and the South Dakota School of Mines. Next week, she’ll travel to the Los Angeles County Museum.