The environments at Agate Springs Quarry and Morava Ranch Quarry, both sites where Moropus elatus fossils have been found, are thought to be seasonal open savannahs with waterholes (Hunt Jr 1978; Coombs and Coombs 1997). Moropus elatus shared its environment with a whole host of other mammals. Studies on the Morava Ranch Quarry have revealed a fossil assemblage that consists of two species of horses, two species of rhinoceros, a number of extinct artiodactyl ungulates, camels, entelodonts, early dogs, bear dogs and smaller rodents (Coombs and Coombs 1997).
Based on their teeth, it can be inferred that M. elatus were herbivores. The teeth of these animals had relatively short crowns. The portion of the teeth that showed above the gumline was relatively short and not well adapted for chewing coarse and gritty vegetation. This suggests that these animals might not have been able to process the tough grasses that spread in the Miocene (give age). Because the molars of M. elatus do not show much wear, they probably fed on softer vegetation. The teeth of species that eat tougher vegetation like grass are usually worn in adult individuals. M. elatus also lacked upper incisors (e.g., front teeth), though, wear on the lower incisors suggest some kind of abrasion against a hard plate formed on the premaxilla or upper jaw (Figure 3) (Coombs 1978). This indicates that M. elatus might have cropped vegetation like cows or deer do today (Coombs 1978). Microwear on the teeth of M. elatus supports the hypothesis that these animals were browsers (Semprebon et al. 2011). A diastema, or space between the incisors and the premolars would have allowed for the extrusion of the tongue, much like the way giraffes use their tongue to grasp leaves (Figure 3) (Coombs 1983).
Researchers have suggested that the claws of Moropus would have been used for everything from digging up tubers to stripping flowers (Figure 2) (Coombs 1983). However, neither the wear patterns of the bones themselves support these hypotheses (Coombs 1983). A more likelyfunction for the claws is to pull higher branches down, much like the way modern sloths use their long claws (Coombs 1983). These claws made these animals walk in such a way that most of the weight was focused on the balls of the feet. The claws were retracted and did not touch the ground (Coombs 1983).
- Coombs, M. C. 1978. A Premaxilla of Moropus elatus Marsh, and Evolution of Chalicotherioid Anterior Dentition. Journal of Paleontology 52:118-121.
- Coombs, M. C. 1983. Large Mammalian Clawed Herbivores: A Comparative Study. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 73:1-96.
- Coombs, M. C., and W. P. Coombs. 1997. Analysis of the geology, fauna, and taphonomy of Morava Ranch Quarry, early Miocene of Northwest Nebraska. PALAIOS 12:165-187.
- Hunt Jr, R. M. 1978. Depositional setting of a miocene mammal assemblage, Sioux county, Nebraska (U.S.A.). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 24:1-52.
- Semprebon, G. M., P. J. Sise, and M. C. Coombs. 2011. Potential Bark and Fruit Browsing as
- Revealed by Stereomicrowear Analysis of the Peculiar Clawed Herbivores Known as Chalicotheres (Perissodactyla, Chalicotherioidea). Journal of Mammalian Evolution 18:33-55.