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Artiodactyls are even-toed ungulates (hoofed animals), in which the weight is carried between two center toes. They are also herbivores (plant eaters).
Ruminants and Their Stomachs
The common deer (Odocoileus) had its origin in North America. A number of living offshoots remain in South America.
The family Bovidae (cattle, antelopes, goats, etc.) bear simple unbranched horns (usually in both sexes, but in a number of antelopes, only in the male) of bone covered by a permanent horny sheath. By far the largest living group of artiodactyls, the bovidae appeared rather late, in the Miocene (about 5 to 25 million years ago) of Eurasia. Their greatest development was in the Pleistocene (about 2 million years ago) of southern Asia and Africa. Only a few cold-hardy forms reached North America , and none reached South America.
A large group of fossil and living "Antelopes" is represented by the sable antelope, oryx, hartebeest, and gnus. Most are now African, a few Asian. Very closely related to the true cattle are large African "Antelopes" such as the Kudu and eland, and certain Asiatic forms.
The most widespread ruminants today are the true cattle of various wild and domestic types. Cattle, true buffalo and bison arose in the Pleistocene from large cow-like antelopes of the Old World (Europe, Asia, and Africa). Man has found them widely useful and has selectively bred, from primitive types, cattle specialized for particular purposes.
North America in the Pleistocene (about 2 million years ago) had numerous bison, derived from Old World immigrant stock and including types now extinct. Some were of gigantic proportions. These animals were a principal source of food for humans. Once they were domesticated, they gave humans a mode of transportation. They could be trained to till the ground for crops. They gave milk, provided hides for clothing, and fuel for fire. In some cultures they were possessions of prestige, had sacred significance and were the basis of myth and legend.
Camels & Llamas
Their feet are different from other artiodactyls', having two spreading toes nearly flat on the ground, small nails instead of hoofs, and a heavy pad beneath the toes. The reduction of toes and fusion of leg bones are typically artiodactyl. As typical camels evolved, they grew larger; the toes spread, hoofs were reduced, and the metacarpals and metatarsals (the bones between the ankles and toes) became fully fused into cannon bones.
Camelops, a highly evolved large camel, lived in our Southwest until rather recent times. Its teeth had been reduced in number and adapted for browsing. The cause of its extinction is unknown.
One or Two Humps?
The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back. Most Bactrian camels live in the mountain deserts of Asia. Nomadic people depend on domesticated Bactrians for wool, meat, and milk. They are also used for carrying loads and for riding. Wild Bactrian camels are still found in remote areas, but their numbers are dwindling.
The Dromedary camel has one hump. The Dromedary is important to nomadic tribes in the deserts of northern Africa, the Middle East, and India.
There are four species of South American camel, also called lamoids. They are smaller than the camels of the Old World, and do not have humps on their backs. The llama is a domesticated South American camel, which has been bred for use as a pack animal.
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Adapted from exhibit descriptions by John Klausmeyer, Exhibit Preparator, University of Michigan Exhibit Museum