Temporal range: Ypresian
|Reproduction of a painting c. 1920|
Eohippus is an extinct genus of small equid ungulates. The only species is E. angustidens, which was long considered a species of Hyracotherium. Its remains have been identified in North America and date to the Early Eocene (Ypresian) stage.
In 1876, Othniel C. Marsh described a skeleton as Eohippus validus, from the Greek ἠώς (eōs, "dawn") and ἵππος (hippos, "horse"), meaning "dawn horse". Its similarities with fossils described by Richard Owen were formally pointed out in a 1932 paper by Sir Clive Forster Cooper. E. validus was moved to the genus Hyracotherium, which had priority as the name for the genus, with Eohippus becoming a junior synonym of that genus. Hyracotherium was recently found to be a paraphyletic group of species, and the genus now includes only H. leporinum. E. validus was found to be identical to an earlier-named species, Hyracotherium angustidens (Cope, 1875), and the resulting binomial is thus Eohippus angustidens.
Common misconception on size
In most early books about mammal evolution,[which?] Eohippus is described as being "the size of a small Fox Terrier",[ambiguous] even though in real life Eohippus was probably the size of a larger dog breed such as a Labrador retriever. This arcane analogy was so curious that Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about it ("The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier Clone", essay #10 in his book, Bully for Brontosaurus), in which he concluded that Henry Fairfield Osborn had so described it in a widely distributed pamphlet. The reasons for this comparison are unclear, but Gould posits that Osborn, a keen fox hunter, could have made a natural association between horses and the dogs that accompany them.
- MacFadden, B. J. (March 18, 2005). "Fossil Horses--Evidence for Evolution". Science. 307 (5716): 1728–1730. doi:10.1126/science.1105458. PMID 15774746.
- Froehlich, D. J. (2002). "Quo vadis eohippus? The systematics and taxonomy of the early Eocene equids (Perissodactyla)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 134 (2): 141–256. doi:10.1046/j.1096-3642.2002.00005.x.
- Gould, S.J. (1991). Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History, W. W. Norton & Co., 540pp.