Chalicotherium is an odd-toed perissodactyl ungulate genus from Oligocene Mongolia, better known as the chalicothere.


Two Chalicotherium, an adult and a juvenile, browsing from a tree. Artwork: Julio Lacerda.

Chalicotherium, genus of extinct perissodactyls, the order including the modern Horse and the infamous Rhinoceros. Fossil remains of the genus are common in deposits of Asia, Europe, and Africa from the Miocene Epoch (23 to 5.3 million years ago). The genus persisted into the following Pliocene Epoch, and remains of a related genus, Moropus, are found in North America.  Chalicotherium and its relatives, collectively known as the chalicotheres, were very unusual in appearance and structure. In overall appearance the body and slim skull were horselike. The front limbs were longer than the hind limbs, and the back sloped downward.

The teeth were distinctive in structure and unhorselike. The feet were quite distinctive. There were no hooves; instead, each of the three toes on each foot terminated in a strongly developed claw. It is probable that the development of claws was related to the feeding habits of the animal. Chalicotherium may have browsed on branches of trees, pulling them down with the front claws; the claws may also have been employed to dig up roots and tubers.

It numbered several species, all of whom had claws instead of hooves, unlike its relatives such as Ancylotherium. Chalicotheres were related to horses and rhinoceroses, but they fed like pandas, and walked like modern apes like gorillas or extinct ground sloths did.

The Chalicotherium is an extinct megafauna mammal that lived approximately 15 million to 5 million years ago – from the Middle through the Late Miocene Periods. It was first discovered during the early 19th century and was described and named in 1833 by Johann Jakob Kaup.

The name of this animal means “pebble beast.” It was an animal which lived on the plains of Eurasia. If you look at Chalicotherium pictures without studying it beforehand, then you are very likely to think it was some kind of creature created in the lab. It had the snout of a horse but it had the body of a moose and muscular looking arms that looked like they’d be better suited to be on a giant sloth. All while it drug its knuckles on the ground like a modern gorilla. It was a very strange looking animal indeed.

Chalicotherium goldfussi; illustration. Credit: Roman Uchytel

One of the most interesting facts about Chalicotherium is that it is almost immune to classification. It has no living relatives and was just a very bizarre animal in general. However, there are a few things that scientists do know about it. For instance, they know that it is a perissodactyl – a term which means that it was an odd-toed ungulate, like a modern horse. Although instead of hooves it had claws instead. Claws that most likely would have been used to pull branches down so it could eat the leaves.

Another thing that scientists aren’t sure about Chalicotherium is whether or not it had any natural enemies. Most likely, a full-grown one wouldn’t have had too many other animals to worry about. It was just too big. However, very young individuals or those who were sick could have been a food source for large predatory carnivores such as Amphicyon. Chalicotherium were about 9 feet high at the shoulder and probably weighed as much as 2,000 pounds. That would have made this animal a very formidable looking beast. Fortunately, it wasn’t a carnivore but was an herbivore instead.

During the Oligocene and the Miocene the chalicotheres were some of the biggest mammals around, but as time went and new animals, like Amphicyon, evolved and grew bigger, smarter, and more powerful, chalicotheres began to die out - and the deterioration of the climate contributed to that as well, until by the time of the Pleistocene they were all gone, with the hooved chalicotheres like Ancylotherium going last. Relatives of Chalicotherium - the other chalicotheres - include Protomoropus, Moropus, Kalimantsia, and Ancylotherium.

In the Media

  • Chalicotherium 1st appeared in the 3rd episode of the BBC Documentary Walking with Beasts.
  • Chalicotherium appears in ARK: Survival Evolved.
  • A Chalicotherium also appeared briefly in Ice Age: The Meltdown with an upset stomach.
  • Chalicotherium appeared as a sliver in the Glacial park in Jurassic Park Builder.