Chalicotherium

The Chalicotherium was a genus of ramoneating ungulate mammals, which compared to dinosaurs inhabited our planet relatively recently.

It is estimated that its existence developed in the Cenozoic Era, specifically at the end of the Paleogene period, approximately 16 million years ago.

If we were to compare Chalicotherium with modern-day animals, we could certainly describe it as a large animal that walked like a gorilla, fed like a panda and had a head like a horse.

When we talk about the large size of this animal we mean that it was no less than about 3 or 4 meters, besides that, the weight of this animal could have easily surpassed the ton.

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Taxonomy of Chalicotherium

  • Chalicotherium belonged to the Animalia kingdom.
  • The phylum on which it was classified is Chordata.
  • We found this animal extinct in the Mammalia class.
  • This huge mammal belonged to the order Perissodactyla.
  • The family where it was classified is Chalicotheriidae.
  • The genus we are referring to is Chalicotherium.

The type species of this genus (on the basis of which the scientific description of this animal has been made) is C. goldfussi, however, there are three more species considered as valid, they are the following C. brevirostris, C. salinum and C. hebeiense.

Discovery of this great mammal

The name Chalicotherium comes from two words taken from the classical Greek and as a whole it means “gravel beast”, mainly referring to its huge size but also in allusion to its pebble-shaped molars.

Regarding its discovery we will say that it took place in 1825 and that the first remains found were some terminal phalanges.

Later these fossils were described by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier, who initially named it Gigantesque golin.

Then the German naturalist Johann Jakob Kaup, in 1833, found what would be the upper molar bones and these remains related to an ungulate animal, which are those mammals that walk with the tip of their fingers.

Because of the relationship we have just mentioned he called this strange mammal for the first time Chalicotherium goldfussi. That same year JJ Kaup, found the remains of another species which he called Chalicotherium antiquum.

In 1934 Colbert found a jawless skull and some jaw materials in the Tunggur-Mongolia formation. This species was called Chalicotherium brevirostris.

Remains of Chalicotherium salinum were also found in the mountain range called Siwalik in India.

Later in 1937, French geologist Edouard Lartet found lower limb bones (legs) in Sansan-France, which he related to a large toothless mammal he called Giganteum Macrotherium.

Obviously, as we have already seen in the section on taxonomy, over the years and the various studies carried out, not all the species mentioned here have been considered valid by the scientific community.

The life of the Chalicotherium on planet earth

This animal lived approximately 16 to 8 million years ago, in a time range between the Pliocene and the Oligocene.

As for its habitat, it was characterized by having been aquatic prior to its existence, however, let us remember that in Europe, many maritime areas disappeared due to the formation of the Andes and the Himalayas.

This made it possible for the habitat of the Chalicotherium to be characterized by being composed of riverside or coastal forests, in addition, they were also composed of large open forest landscapes, full of trees from which it obtained its food.

Studies have made it very clear that it was a herbivorous animal that stood upright to stand on its two legs.

In this way, making use of its two long arms it could reach the highest part of the trees, when it reached a branch it would catch it with its claws and carry it to its mouth like a sloth does today.

It must be clarified that the Chalicotherium fed on fruits and soft branches, since it did not possess front teeth; therefore it used its lips, tongue and gums to detach the branches or fruits.

Regarding its behavior many experts in the field point out that it was a very calm animal, it tried to avoid confrontations.

It is even believed that it did not have predators, in its adult stage it was very difficult that some hunter was able to face it due to its enormous wingspan.

On the other hand, it was possible that the young, old and sick Chalicotheriums were easy prey for a local predator known as bear-dogs.

At first it was thought that the Chalicotherium, moved in packs, due to a surprising finding made in a column of Karst in Bratislava-Slovakia.

More than 1500 fossilized bones of this species were found there, of which 60 were found to belong to this animal.

However, later on the possibility was opened that it was not really a herd, but rather each one of these mammals fell in that column individually since it was a trap for several mammals of the place.

General characteristics

This mammal could reach a height of up to 3 meters, however, its average measurements vary depending on the sex.

For example, males were relatively larger and could reach heights of 2.6 meters, taking into account the shoulders, while females only reached heights of 1.8 meters.

As for their length, they could reach an average of 3 to 4 meters, although this also depended on the sex, they could eventually weigh 1 ton.

It had a relatively small head compared to its body, this was very similar to that of a modern horse.

It is known that these animals when they reached sexual maturity lost their incisors and canines, so they had to use their lips and gums to feed themselves, as we have already mentioned. However, it had some molars that made it easier for it to grind the food once ingested.

It had a robust body, very similar in its morphology to that of the Indricotherium, but which differed in having higher and stronger shoulders, as well as a lower back than that of the Indricotherium.

His large shoulders and his posture were largely due to the evolution of his front arms, which were elongated in comparison to his hind legs.

The front arms ended in hooked claws, which must have made it easier for him to grasp branches and fruit from which he fed.

Because his arms ended in the aforementioned claws, when he walked he did so as modern gorillas do.

Even due to fossil evidence observed on his ischium, it is suggested that he spent a prolonged amount of time squatting, taking this posture to feed as pandas do.

Eventually it had a small, sometimes almost imperceptible tail. Some researchers suggest that he didn’t need one, given his habit of staying seated.

The extinction of this great prehistoric mammal

How could this great mammal become extinct? Like most of the animals that inhabited the Pleistocene, they became extinct due to the extreme climatic changes of the time.

To this fact we must also add the action of small predators that organized themselves in herds and thus managed to reduce the population of Chalicotherium to a great extent.

These two factors undoubtedly played an important role in the extinction of this great mammal.

We must also take into account that with the climate change of the time, Chalicotherium also saw a decrease in the plants on which it fed.

Some curiosities about Chalicotherium

The Chalicotherium was present in one of the chapters of the representative series “walking with beasts” of the BBC network.
The Chalicotherium also has an appearance in the famous children’s film Ice Age: The Thaw.
It also had an appearance in the series “Saga of Pliocene Exile”; in that series they were called “chalikos” and were used as steeds.
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