A typifying member of the family phenacodontidae, the Phenacodus was named by a scientist called Cope in 1873. This genus, having many species, is estimated to have existed during the late paleocene to middle eocene period of the earth (55 million years ago) - long after dinosaurs had become extinct.
If you would like to know of something that draws a straight line from this genus to animals of the present day, you will be amused to know that the Phenacodus had hooves. If that reminds you of horses, mules and donkeys among many other animals, we are on the same page!
For more relatable content, check out Paleosaurus and Ornithosuchus.
The Phenacodus was one of the earliest ungulates in natural history, and lived several million years ago, during the late Paleocene, which was way after dinosaurs had gotten extinct.
The name of this extinct animal is pronounced as "fay-nah-kaw-dus".
The Phenacodus was a mammal, as suggested by the fossils of the genus. There are several species that fall within the description of the genus, of which, Phenacodus primaevus is the one that can be seen typifying the family.
The geological period during which the Phenacodus lived on the face of the earth is known as the late paleocene age. These ungulates lived through to the middle Eocene age. If you happen to be wondering how long ago that would have been, you will be surprised to know that the earliest and most primitive ungulates found in natural history lived no less than 55 million years ago!
While the exact timeline as to when these ungulates of North America became extinct is unknown to us, we do know that the Eocene age ended around 33 million years ago. This gives us a fair idea of when these five-toed animals may have become extinct if they had managed to survive through the late Eocene age.
The habitat of Phenacodus is known to have consisted of floodplains and woodlands. It is estimated that they would have preferred to live in relatively marshy areas, however, the hooved feet would also easily allow this ungulate genus to be able to navigate through hard ground areas.
The fossil remains of the Phenacodus have been found in western North America and Western Europe. However, the skeleton remains found in western Europe are rather scanty. Since the fossil remains have been found in places that are so far away in the modern-day, it can be assumed that while the population of these animals may have been concentrated in certain parts of the world, the Phenacodus was not endemic to any particular land.
There is not much research that can tell us exactly how socially active these primitive mammals were, however, the fact that the genus is known to have been omnivorous does tell us that they could have lived in either a small or a large group.
The average lifespan of a Phenacodus, as well as the time the genus or related genera spent on the surface of the earth, forms a rather pressing question that has not been answered yet. The structure of the skeleton preserved from an obscure ancient date does not provide enough insight regarding the lifespan.
Since these five-toed animals are described as mammals, it becomes clear that they took part in viviparous reproduction, much like humans do at the modern date. Although, other characteristics pertinent to the reproduction in these animals such as any courting habits are yet to be surfaced.
The Phenacodus was a genus of animals that had features that would remind us of a modern-day dog. This animal is characterized by a long tail and a body of small height. The teeth of the Phenacodus, as seen in fossils, suggested that the genus led an omnivorous lifestyle.
In addition to this, one of the most interesting features of this early ungulate is the fact that it had hooves - in the same fashion that we see in horsed today! It is assumed that these animals were ancestors of even-toed and odd-toed animals of the present day.
It becomes very difficult to predict how many bones there were in the body of this extinct animal since the bones that have been discovered are mostly in a crushed state.
It is likely from the skull placement and other features of the Phenacodus and related genera that these animals would have had a certain method of communicating within and outside of the genus.
The length of an average Phenacodus from skull to tail is estimated to have been around 5 ft (1.5 m)!
While the exact speed at which this member of the Phenacodontidae family could move is hardly known to us, it can be assumed from the strong legs of the genus that each individual ungulate would have been averagely fast.
The average weight of this animal of the order Perissodactyla is estimated to have been around 50-75 lb (22.6-34 kg). The long muscular tail of the animal forms quite a considerable portion of the weight, as justified through articles published by paleontologists.
Unfortunately, there are no distinct names for the male and female Phenacodus and hence, we have resorted to simply referring to them as the male Phenacodus and female Phenacodus respectively.
It is also amusing to know that the fossils of the earliest and most primitive mammals, Phenacodus primaevus, do not show any characteristics that would distinguish between the two sexes.
The juvenile Phenacodus would be called a baby, since these mammals of the family Phenacodontidae, were known to have been viviparous, much like us humans!
This species was originally thought to have been herbivorous, given the pattern and shape of the teeth. However, evolution may have equipped these primitive mammals of ancient history to be able to hunt and feed on small vertebrates as well. These animals were thus relatively evolved, as they adapted to an omnivorous diet.
Being an omnivorous, small mammal species, the Phenacodus skeleton hardly suggests that this extinct animal would have been aggressive in any way. The fossil remains such as teeth, limbs, and claws do not suggest that the animal would have posed any major threat. The tail, however muscular, would also not prove to be a point of threat for any animals in a big way, except for the small vertebrates that the Phenacodus fed on.
The Phenacodus was initially thought to be herbivorous.
It had hoofed toes and mediocre-ly sharp teeth, therefore typifying the family features.
Other animals of Phenacodontidae include Tetraclaenodon and Ectocion.
Phenacodus was one of the earliest mammals or ungulates are known to us. This ungulate of the Phenacodontidae family is known to have existed from the late Paleocene to middle Eocene period of the earth. One of the most distinctive features of this animal was the fact that the digits on their toes were covered in hooves. In fact, the feet and claws of the animal were such that it is suspected to have been a direct ancestor of the Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla.
This extinct animal is hardly known as an endemic one since the fossil remains of the Phenacodus skeleton have been found in places both in present-day North America and in Europe (early Tertiary formations).
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly prehistoric animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these Scelidotherium facts, or Hypohippus for kids pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Prehistoric Rhino coloring pages.
Image 1 Author - Heinrich Harder (1858-1935).