Why don't horses have toes? © Getty Images

Why don’t horses have toes?

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

Asked by: Leslie Waters, High Wycombe


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.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.