Ungulates: who they are, where they are and how to recognize them

Ungulates include all animals that rest their weight on a defined structure hoofwhich is nothing but a keratinized coating which covers the end of the toes, turning them into a “big nail”. Knowing how to recognize ungulates is not too difficult given that the specificity they share is very obvious. You could then use this information to your advantage: if you so choose beautiful figure Before partner for example, when you go to a horse stable, you can call out: “You belong to the group of ungulates!” so they make you great and fascinating experts in their eyes.

Characteristics of ungulates

The first characteristic of ungulates, from which the name derives, is the presence of nails transformed into hooves that protect the tips of the toes and allow the animal to walk “on tiptoe”. This hoof structure can provide different benefits for the animal: supports all weight, also allows upward movement rough terrain and protects the fabrics stored inside.

In fact, the group of ungulates seems to include animals that are genetically and evolutionarily distant from each other, and therefore it is not a very correct term from a zoological point of view. When we talk about ungulates, we mean primarily two distinct orders: Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla. The first include all ungulates characterized by a odd number of fingers like horses and rhinoceroses, the others on the contrary an even number such as ruminants, including deer and cattle.

Another characteristic common to all ungulates is continuous hoof growth, which are naturally shed in wild animals, but instead must be well managed and treated in domestic animals. Most ungulates are without clavicle and herbivores and they also have gods poorly developed canines and molars specialized for a given type of diet, but there is no shortage an omnivorous species like pigs. Even though they don’t have hooves, neither does he cetaceans they are placed among ungulates due to their phylogenetic proximity to artiodactyls, therefore the order is also called cetartiodactyls.

These animals can be grouped into two main categories: artiodactyls, which have an even number of toes, and perissodactyls, which have an odd number of toes on their hooves.

Artiodactyl ungulates

Artiodactyls include ungulates that they rest their weight on two or an even number of toes, generally the third and fourth, while the others are reduced or absent. Artiodactyl species are much more numerous than perissodactyl species, reaching approx 270 including giraffes, deer, camels and antelopes. Here are some examples:

Hippopotamus (Amphibious hippopotamus)


It is one of two species of hippo still living in Africa “vulnerable” according to the IUCN. Except for cetaceans, yes heaviest terrestrial artiodactyl which exists and is the largest after elephants and rhinos. Each paw represents four fingersall more or less the same size that he uses for both walking and swimming.

giraffe (Giraffe camelopardalis)


IUCN informs about it Giraffe camelopardalis as the only kind African giraffes, divided into nine different subspecies, but some consider some of these subspecies to be separate species, so new genetic studies are necessary to better define the classification. Giraffes are well known for their long necks, but not everyone knows that they are also artiodactyls characterized by the presence hooves. These are approximately 30 cm high for males and 15 cm for females and have a lower rear to allow more support for the animal’s weight.

camel (Camelus ferus)


The wild camel is a species that lives in Asia, currently limited to only four populations in China and Mongolia, and is therefore considered “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN, mainly due to hunting. Each leg consists of two wide fingers attached and inseparable, specially developed for walking on sand.

Perissodactyl ungulates

Perissodactyls include ungulates that they rest their weight on one, or an odd number of toes: usually the third is hoof-shaped. Other fingers may be present only in residual form, may be reduced or completely absent. This order only includes 17 species which belong to three different families: equines, rhinoceroses and tapirids. Here are some examples:

white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)


The white rhinoceros is the largest among perissodactyls and gifts three different fingers on the front legs and three on the back legs. A rhinoceros hoof does not completely cover the toes, but only the front part, leaving the part that touches the ground soft. The special shape of the fingers allows feasy to recognize his fingerprints on the side Border guard who has to watch it in the savannah. In addition, unlike, for example, bovids, the horn is special because it is also made of keratin, same material as nails. A white rhinoceros is being considered “nearly endangered” according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) due to poaching who always chased this species to get the coveted horn. One of the two subspecies, the northern white rhinoceros, is instead nearly extinct, with only a few surviving today only two individualsbut some projects are underway, such as the creation of artificial embryos, to prevent their extinction.

domestic horse (Equus ferus caballus)


Hoof health and care are so important to horses that the expression “no foot, no horse“, i.e. “no leg, no horse”. To date, the horse presents just one fingerbut the ancestor from whom it descends Eohippus, instead had more fingers and is thus a more recently evolved feature. The hoof wraps around the distal phalanx of the thumb, which corresponds to the tip of a human finger, and thus simply supports the entire weight of the horse finger tips. The hoof may seem stiff, but it actually is flexible and elastic, and they need to be taken care of and stored very often. A 2018 study also suggested that inside the hoof is the rest of the other fingers were lost in the course of evolution.

tapirs (Tapirus sp.)


Tapirs understand five different species all classified by the IUCN as endangered or vulnerable. In 2013, some scientists proposed a sixth species of tapir, but it was not accepted by the scientific community, which considers it only a subspecies. The legs are very specific: present anterior four fingerswhile the rear ones Threeand they evolved precisely to walk on soft and muddy ground.

Examples of threatened or endangered ungulates

Ungulates include a large number of animal species and many of them are considered by the IUCN endangered or near extinction. The reasons can be various: poaching, habitat loss and degradation, construction of anthropogenic works and so on. Let’s look at some examples:

okapi (Okapia johnstoni)


Okapi is also the only living species Giraffe camelopardalis, be part of the giraffe family. It is known for its very peculiar appearance which makes it more similar to a zebra than the giraffe, although it is more closely related. Okapi is a ruminant artiodactyl furnished with two toes on each foot, and peculiar hooves: they have some at the base scent glands which allow them to mark their territory. The okapi is a species classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN due to a population decline that has been ongoing since at least 1980, and mainly due to habitat degradation and loss.

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)


It is a very rare cattle that lives exclusively in the Annamite Mountains Laos and Vietnam. This species became known only in 1992 when a pair of unknown horns were found and subsequently attributed to this animal, which was first photographed in 1999. an artiodactyl ruminantwith each paw consisting of two fingers divisible, often defined by numerous international media as the “new unicorn”, probably due to its very long horns. It is a species whose population is decreasing due to the small geographic range it occupies and is classified by the IUCN as “critically endangered”.

Ungulates in Italy

Boar (Sus scrofa)

in Italy there are several species of ungulates. Among the bovids, for example, it is possible to catch a glimpse ibex (Capricorn carp), a ruminant artiodactyl that lives in the Alps and is known for its ability to walk very steep rocky slopes. He is also from the same family alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), an artiodactyl that lives in alpine mountains at high altitude and that has developed hooves suitable for walking on very uneven terrain. The hoof in fact, it presents some morphological peculiarities: outside it’s sharp and fairly hard, so you can use any grip you can find on the rock face; finger tips instead, they are soft, specially designed to prevent slipping, and finally the hoof presents itself the fingers are not attached between them, but separable and equipped with a membrane that allows the animal to walk even after snow. Among the deer, however, it is possible to see e.g. deer (Capreolus capreolus) a European red deer (Cervus elaphus), both belonging to the order Artiodactyla. Another very common ungulate in Italy is boar (Sus scrofa), from the Suidae family, and its massive occurrence in our country is mainly due to reintroductions from the 1950s for hunting purposes, the adaptability of this species to colonize various types of different environments and high reproductive potential. However, such a number of individuals leads to serious crop damage mainly due to his continuous digging and trampling of the earth.

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