Evolution and Horses

With a unique blend of science and humour, American naturalist and science educator Milos Radakovich is an extremely popular cruise ship lecturer.

He has written two volumes full of what he calls “Bite-size SCIENCE snacks” called 90 SECONDS. These articles were written to be delivered as 90 second radio spots. I have read and reread all many times.

If you are interested in ordering a copy or for more information e-mail Milos at milos@mbay.net

EVOLUTION and HORSES

One of the wonderful things about being involved with science is the way every day is like Christmas, with new presents under the tree, just waiting to be opened.

The discovery of biological evolution is one of those gifts which just keeps on giving. We are always uncovering new ways of seeing the wonders of this natural clockwork.

One very central, yet often misunderstood, aspect of evolution is that it is not directional. While life’s history gives the impression that organisms become larger and more complex over time, it’s primarily because early life forms were smaller and simpler.

“Survival of the fittest” means just that,  but depending on the environment, fitness might be a matter of size (large or small), speed, stealth, aggressiveness, ability to swim, fly, run or burrow, or having the teeth or digestive enzymes to eat particular foods.

While horses are often used in books and museums to illustrate evolution, there are a lot of misconceptions of their history.

Horses have not evolved simply to become bigger. About 20 million years ago, horses diversified in size- some became larger, while others shrank to size of dogs.

The first horses in North America were not brought by Europeans. The continent’s horse fossils date from about 55 million years ago. Native horses, along with mammoths and a host of other species, went extinct only 10,000 years ago, just about the time humans colonized the New World.

In order to full appreciate the lessons of the fossil record, it’s vital that we have a clearer understanding of the well-documented process of evolution that produced it.

horse

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