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Hippo history extracted from fossil teeth found in Kenya

Ancestor’s dentition reveals mammoth mammal’s African origins

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11:00am, February 24, 2015
Fossilized teeth

TOOTHY TALES  Fossilized teeth from the newly identified Epirigenys lokonensis suggest that living hippos evolved from the first wave of large terrestrial mammals to invade Africa.

Fossil teeth recently found in Kenya may help fill in some of the holes in the history of hippopotamuses.

The teeth, which are roughly 28 million years old, belong to a newly identified hippo ancestor named Epirigenys lokonensis. This extinct species links the oldest known family of hippos in Africa with their earlier Asia-dwelling ancestors, researchers from France and Kenya report online February 24 in Nature Communications.

Grooves in the teeth of E. lokonensis have similar patterns to those in teeth of anthracotheres, a family of extinct relatives of hippos and whales that lived about 40 million years ago in what is now Southeast Asia. But the enamel on E. lokonensis’ teeth is thicker and the points are blunter. The shape of the premolars is also more similar to that of hippo relatives that roamed Uganda about 21 million years ago.

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