Agate Springs Quarry and Morava Ranch Quarry are both sites where Moropus elatus fossils have been found. The environments at these sites are thought to have been seasonal open savannahs with waterholes (Hunt Jr 1978; Coombs and Coombs 1997). Moropus elatus shared its environment with a whole host of other mammals. Excavations at the Morava Ranch Quarry have found 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 portion of the teeth that showed above the gumline (called the crown) 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 (~23-5.3 mya). The teeth of species that eat tougher vegetation like grass are usually worn in adult individuals. Because the molars of M. elatus do not show much wear, they probably fed on softer vegetation. 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 deer do today (Coombs 1978). The fine abrasions on the surface of the teeth of M. elatus or microwear supports the hypothesis that these animals were browsers (shrub and leaf eater) (Semprebon et al. 2011). A space between the incisors and the premolars, a diastema would have allowed for the tongue to reach out and grasp leaves, much like the way giraffes do (Figure 3) (Coombs 1983).
Researchers have suggested that the claws of Moropus would have been used for everything from digging up tubers or root vegetables to stripping flowers (Figure 2) (Coombs 1983). However, neither the wear patterns on the claws nor the arrangement bones themselves support these hypotheses (Coombs 1983). A more likely function for the claws is to pull higher branches down, much like the way modern sloths use their long claws (Coombs 1983). The claws were angled up while they walked and did not touch the ground (Coombs 1983), therefore, these claws made these animals walk in such a way that most of the weight was focused on the balls of the feet.
- 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.
- Revealed by Stereomicrowear Analysis of the Peculiar Clawed Herbivores Known as Chalicotheres (Perissodactyla, Chalicotherioidea). Journal of Mammalian Evolution 18:33-55.
- Semprebon, G. M., P. J. Sise, and M. C. Coombs. 2011. Potential Bark and Fruit Browsing as
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