Urpferdchen like to eat fruit

Brown coal platter reveals the diet of the long-dead animal

Lignite sample with accompanying label in the manuscript of Erhard Voigt (1905-2004) © Archive Geiseltalmuseum
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The famous prehistoric horse lived about 50 million years ago. Hardly anyone has a clear idea of ​​what life on earth actually looked like back then. What was on the menu of the prehistoric horse, the scientists can now say exactly: It ate mainly leaves, but also fruits and flowers, the researchers reveal in a study of the journal "Hercynia".

An inconspicuous glass tube with cork closure, which has not yet been inventoried, has been in the collection of the Geiseltalmuseum in Halle since 1933. It contains a triangular outlined lignite piece.

"I suddenly held it in my hands two years ago and was electrified, " says Meinolf Hellmund, curator of the Geiseltalmuseum, who together with Volker Wilde of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Museum of Nature is responsible for the new results. "On the attached label is written in pencil: stomach contents Paläohippide CI NO. This sparked my curiosity. "

Urpferdchen from the open pit Cecilie

On the basis of comparisons, the manuscript of Erhard Voigt (1905-2004), who was decisively involved in the excavations of the primeval horse in the Cecilie opencast mine in 1933, could be identified with great certainty. In spite of the fact that the primeval horse was quickly becoming famous, no detailed systematic analysis of all proven components of the find took place at that time. There was also still not the investigation possibilities as today, explains Hellmund. Thus, the glass tube apparently fell into oblivion.

Micro-specimens from the early 1930s inscribed by Erhard Voigt © Archive Geiseltalmuseum

Food spectrum and nutritional biology revealed

Now the latest findings are available. With the help of a transmitted-light microscope and a scanning electron microscope, the small brown lunk piece revealed the diet of a long extinct animal and also says something about its behavior in the food purchase. The contents of the stomach or contents of the digestive tract of the prehistoric horse Propalaeotherium isselanum provide information about the food spectrum and nutritional biology of this animal. display

"The examination revealed a dense packing of small and smallest fragments of different plant tissues, including fruits, leaves and seeds, " says Hellmund. A larger number of pollen grains could also be identified - mostly a certain type, namely tedra pollen most likely from heather crops.

Sand as by-catch

According to the researchers, these were mixed with small quartz grains, presumably not intentionally absorbed sand, so-called by-catch, which was present when feeding fruit or foliage lying on the ground. The sample material consists of intensively chewed, thoroughly mixed and partially digested digestive tract contents typical of an herbivore.

According to the scientists, the findings confirm that the midlezo-living equines from the Geiseltal fed exclusively on vegetarian diets. The results also suggest that the food purchase of these animals was opportunistic and left to chance.

(idw - University of Halle-Wittenberg, 15.12.2009 - DLO)