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Why don't horses have toes? © Getty Images

Why don't horses have toes?

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Who needs a foot full of toes when you can run like the wind with just one?

Asked by: Leslie Waters, High Wycombe

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Early horses such as Hyracotherium, which lived 55 million years ago, did have multiple toes, but they were much smaller animals. For taller animals, excess weight at the end of their legs has a much bigger impact on their speed. A recent study at Harvard found that one broad hoof is almost as strong as multiple smaller toes, but much lighter. Natural selection has gradually discarded the horse’s side toes and widened the middle one to increase running speed.


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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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