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When a thirsty pregnant horse drank from a freshwater lake 47 million years ago, she was unaware that poisonous volcanic gases might lead to her sudden demise. Now, the fossilized remains of the mare and her tiny, unborn foal are revealing new insights into reproduction in ancient horses, including surprising reproductive similarities with today's horses, according to a new study.
Researchers found the ancient horse (Eurohippus messelensis) in the Messel Pit fossil site in Germany, a location renowned for its well-preserved fossils that date back to the Eocene Epoch, between about 57 million and 36 million years ago, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The reproductive similarities between ancient and modern-day horses might seem surprising, given the differences in the animals' size and anatomy. The ancient mare was small — about the size of a modern fox terrier — and had four toes on her front feet and three on her rear feet.
Mesohippus This early horse relative lived in North America about 40 million to 30 million years ago. Mesohippus (or "middle horse") was about as tall as Hyracotherium but had developed a larger brain that more closely resembled that of a modern horse...
Orohippus The Orohippus —or "mountain horse" genus also emerged during the Eocene about 50 million years ago. These lean-legged horse ancestors were about the same size as Hyracotherium .