Animals World

Ungulate

Ungulates are the hoofed mammals, belonging to the phylum Chordata. The word "ungulate" comes from Latin ungula, meaning "hoof." Ungulates are a large group of dissimilar vertebrate animals, grouped together because their outermost toe joints are encased in hooves. There are four ungulate orders. Those ungulates having an odd number of toes belong to the order Perissodactyla. This includes horses (one-toed), rhinoceroses (three-toed), and tapirs (four-toed on the front feet and three-toed on the back feet). Entirely even-toed ungulates belong to the order Artiodactyla. This includes pigs (four-toed) and two-toed ruminants such as camels, giraffes, antelope, deer, cattle, sheep, and goats. The two other orders are Proboscidea (elephants) and Hyracoidea (rabbitlike hyraxes). The size extremes among ungulates range from the seven-ton male African elephant to the rabbitsized dik-dik antelope. Most ungulates are herbivores. Ungulates are also the only mammals with horns or antlers, although not all of them have this bony headgear. They are native to all earth's continents except Australia.

Wild Ungulates
Antelope, elephants, hippopotamuses (hippos), and deer are some common wild ungulates. Horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs are mostly domestic ungulates. Ungulate appearance varies widely, but there are common physical and digestive characteristics. Most are artiodactyls, which walk on two toes. Their ancestors had five toes, but evolution deleted the first toe and made the second and fifth toes vestigial. The third and fourth toes provide support, and end in protective hoofs. Hippopotamuses, unique among artiodactyls, have four toes of equal dimensions. Most ungulates are herbivorous ruminants. They eat only plants, and have specialized digestive tracts with three or four chambers in their stomachs. They chew and swallow vegetation, which, after partial digestion, is regurgitated, chewed again, and reenters the stomach for more digestion. This leads tomaximumnutrient uptake from vegetable food. Ungulates usually lack upper incisor and canine teeth. They have hard pads in their upper jaws, which help the lower teeth to grind food. Deer and antelope are swift-running, hoofed ruminants. Male deer have solid, branched antlers (temporary horns) made of bone, which are shed and regrown yearly. Antelope of both genders have unbranched, permanent, hollow bone horns (true horns). Deer inhabit Asia, Europe, the Americas, and North Africa. Antelope inhabit Africa, Asia, and Europe. Both deer and antelope live in woods, prairies, marshes, mountains, and tundra. Their sizes range from huge moose and elands to rabbit-sized species. Deer and antelope eat twigs, leaves, bark, and grass. The largest antelope are ox-sized. Giraffes and hippos are very unusual African ungulates. Giraffes live south of the Sahara desert. They have very long legs and necks. Males are over sixteen feet tall and both sexes have short horns. Their flexible tongues and upper lips pull leaves-their main food source-from trees. The two-ton animals can go months without drinking, getting most of their water from the leaves they eat. The three- to four-ton hippos walk on all four toes of each foot. They have short legs, large heads, no horns, small eyes and ears, and nostrils that close underwater. Hippos have long, sharp incisors and canines in both jaws. Ahippo can be fifteen feet long and five feet high at the shoulder. They spend most of their time submerged, eating aquatic plants. Brazilian tapirs inhabit South American forests from Colombia and Venezuela to Paraguay and Brazil. They look a bit like elephants and pigs, but are related to horses. The tapirs have stout bodies and short necks and legs, well adapted for pushing through dense forests, and have short, rigid manes, which protect them from predators. Each tapir has a short trunk with a flexible "finger" at its tip. Like elephants, they use the finger to pull leaves into the mouth. They are dark brown to reddish colored, about 6 feet long, 2.5 feet tall at shoulder height, and weigh up to six hundred pounds. Tapirs are nocturnal herbivores, spending much of the night eating grass, grasses, aquatic vegetation, leaves, buds, soft twigs, fruits, and plant shoots. The tapirs roam the forest and can climb river banks and mountains. Excellent swimmers, they spend a lot of time in the water, eating and cooling off.

Domesticated Ungulates
Bovids-cattle-are domesticated ungulates. Most have true horns. Bovid horns are spiral, straight, tall, or grow from the sides of the head and then up. Most are herbivorous ruminants. Cattle are raised to provide meat, milk, and leather. Modern cattle come from European, African, and Asian imports. Breeding modern cattle began in mid-eighteenth century Europe; today there are three hundred breeds. Dairy cattle such as Holsteins make milk, and beef cattle such as Angus yield meat. Sheep and goats are also domesticated, ruminant ungulates. Sheep were domesticated eleven thousand years ago from Asiatic mouflons. They have paired, spiral true horns, largest in males. Adults reach lengths of five feet and weights from 250 to 450 pounds. The eight hundred domesticated breeds provide wool for clothing, meat, and milk. Goats, closely related to sheep, have shorter tails, different horn shape, and beards. They eat grass, leaves, and branches. Numerous breeds are domesticated for meat and milk. Angora goats yield silky mohair. Goat milk is as nutritious as cow milk. The horse, donkey, zebra (HDZ) family are perissodactyls. They live in habitats ranging from grassland to desert. They eat grasses, bark, leaves, buds, fruits, and roots, spending most of their waking hours foraging and eating. Wild specimens inhabit East Africa and the Near East. Domesticated horses and donkeys are used for food, meat, and leather. Zebras are too savage to domesticate. Members of the HDZ family lack horns. They have long heads and necks, slender legs, manes on their necks, and long tails. They have good wide-angle day and night vision and a keen sense of smell. The smallest family members are African wild donkeys, 4 feet tall, 6.5 feet long, and weighing nearly five hundred pounds. The largest, Grevy's zebras, are five feet tall, nine feet long, and weigh up to nine hundred pounds. Zebras have black or brown and white, vertically striped coats. The other HDZ family members are brown, black, gray, white, and mixtures of these colors.

The Lifestyles of Ungulates
The lifestyles of ungulates are very different. Many of them are very sociable and live in large herds, including many bovids, horses, deer, antelope, and zebras. In other cases, the animals live in smaller family groups, or are solitary, coming together only to breed. Wild donkeys and horses live in herdsmadeup of a male and his mates.Young stay in the herd until two or four years old for females and males, respectively. Males then join other bachelors until winning a herd. Females join other herds. Goats and sheep are also herd animals. Young goats, sheep, and cattle join herds or live in solitary fashion after they are weaned. Moose are quite different. Males are solitary until they fight for mates and breed in the fall. A successful male often leads several females and babies all winter. In the spring he returns to the solitary life. Giraffes and male elephants are solitary. Female elephants and young form herds whose members breed with visiting males, protect each other, and raise young. Ungulates are of great importance to humans and to the world. First of all, in the wild state they are food for many carnivores and omnivores. Domesticated, they provide meat, milk, hides, and sinew for human use. Furthermore, elephants, horses, and reindeer have long been used as beasts of burden. In addition, ungulates are biologically important because as herbivores, they prevent overgrowth of all sorts of plants by eating them.

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Principal Terms

antlers: branched, temporary horns made of solid bone, shed and regrown yearly
carnivore: any animal that eats only the flesh of other animals
gestation: the term of pregnancy
herbivore: an animal that eats only plants
nocturnal: active at night
omnivore: an animal that eats both plants and other animals
true horns: straight, permanent, hollow bone horns

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