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Old 07-25-2019, 05:48 AM
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Running mammals - hooves vs paws


Herbivores (ungulates, horses, etc.) have hooves; predators (felids and canids) have paws. That seems to be a general rule when it comes to medium and large land mammals that either run from predators or run to chase down prey.

So I get why big cats and bears evolved paws - they use their claws as weapons. But why did wolves and dogs keep their paws? They don't use their claws as weapons. They do dig - is that the only reason? I wonder if a hooved wolf could run even faster, and thus have a higher likelihood of catching prey.

Thoughts? Were there ever hooved predators, or prey animals with paws?
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Old 07-25-2019, 06:00 AM
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Originally Posted by iiandyiiii View Post
Were there ever hooved predators
Mesonychids (now extinct) have often been described as "wolves with hooves".

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Originally Posted by iiandyiiii View Post
or prey animals with paws?
Plenty of small mammals like rabbits, raccoons, and many rodents have paws. I can't think of anything in the "medium to large" category though.

(and keep your killer rabbit jokes to yourself)
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Old 07-25-2019, 06:14 AM
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Plenty of small mammals like rabbits, raccoons, and many rodents have paws. I can't think of anything in the "medium to large" category though.
Kangaroos

Last edited by MrDibble; 07-25-2019 at 06:14 AM.
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Old 07-25-2019, 06:39 AM
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Kangaroos
But kangaroos don't run. Any medium or large running prey animals with paws?

Last edited by iiandyiiii; 07-25-2019 at 06:40 AM.
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Old 07-25-2019, 06:51 AM
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Mesonychids (now extinct) have often been described as "wolves with hooves".
Thanks! I remembered something like this, but I wasn't sure about the name.
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Old 07-25-2019, 07:07 AM
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Kangaroos bring up an interesting point -- in my understanding, all marsupials crawl through the pouch after birth to find the nipple, using hands, and thus all marsupials have some sort of modified hands in their upper limbs. If that's accurate, then maybe that explains why kangaroos evolved their unique method of travel -- they couldn't evolve hooves, but still needed to move quickly and over distance, and their hopping is more efficient than running on modified hands.
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Old 07-25-2019, 07:12 AM
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But kangaroos don't run. Any medium or large running prey animals with paws?
Capybara
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Old 07-25-2019, 07:16 AM
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Capybara
Do they run much? I thought they mostly swam. But that's a good answer!
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Old 07-25-2019, 07:16 AM
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Mesonychids (now extinct) have often been described as "wolves with hooves".
The fact that they are extinct doesn't speak well for their uniqueness. LOL
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Old 07-25-2019, 09:21 AM
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Aardvarks? Elephants?

Camels are ungulates, but to call their feet 'hooves' would be a stretch. The toenail/hoof part of the foot is not where they bear weight.
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Old 07-25-2019, 09:31 AM
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Aardvarks? Elephants?

Camels are ungulates, but to call their feet 'hooves' would be a stretch. The toenail/hoof part of the foot is not where they bear weight.
I don't think aardvarks run much at all, and elephants might occasionally move fast, but I don't think running is their main defense from predators. But those are good examples for the discussion. Interestingly, wikipedia just calls them "feet" for elephants and for aardvarks. Neither hooves nor paws.

Camels are even better. But wikipedia refers to "hooves" multiple times, so it seems their feet are still considered hooves rather than paws.

Last edited by iiandyiiii; 07-25-2019 at 09:32 AM.
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Old 07-25-2019, 10:17 AM
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Aardvarks aren't herbivores, though.
And elephants have feet, not paws (no claws, for one thing, which is IMO the defining feature of a paw) And their fast gait isn't technically running.
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Old 07-25-2019, 10:34 AM
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Camels are even better. But wikipedia refers to "hooves" multiple times, so it seems their feet are still considered hooves rather than paws.
Heh. Half of those references to hooves are from Leviticus, which states that camels are unclean because they do not have a cloven hoof. One is to an ancestral hoofed camelid. But I take your point; camels are even-toed ungulates. Almost all of the land-dwelling even-toed ungulates have hooves, so we might safely refer to the foot-things of ungulates as hooves in general. Still, a proper hoof is a hard or rubbery sole with a hard wall formed by a thick nail, with weight borne by both the sole and wall. A camel's foot is more like that of an elephant - digitigrade, with a weight-bearing pad under the toe bones, and toenails at the front.

This paper discusses nail tumors in camels, and describes the structures as toes and toenails.

I think your point still stands, though; the big running herbivorous animal niche seems to be almost exclusively filled with hoofed ungulates. Do human feet count as paws? We might not get preyed upon too much anymore, but that hasn't always been the case. And running for longer than other animals is kind of our thing...
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Old 07-25-2019, 11:24 AM
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Heh. Half of those references to hooves are from Leviticus, which states that camels are unclean because they do not have a cloven hoof.
Not sure I understand your (seemingly) derisive "heh" here. Leviticus says camels do not have CLOVEN hooves, not that they don't have hooves at all. Camels' hooves are partially cloven - but the Leviticus doesn't consider hooves "cloven" unless fully so.
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Old 07-25-2019, 12:55 PM
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Tapirs kind of fit the idea of paws in that they have pads and their toes are hoofed, like claws in reverse. Wouldn't birds fit in both catagories of prey/predator as well? They all have claws of some kind.
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Old 07-25-2019, 01:20 PM
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Hmmm... I'll have to google "camel toes" and see what I find.
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Old 07-25-2019, 01:22 PM
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Generally, animals with heavy blunt nails on the foot, like tapirs, rhinos, and hippos, are considered to have hooves.
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Old 07-25-2019, 04:09 PM
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Generally, animals with heavy blunt nails on the foot, like tapirs, rhinos, and hippos, are considered to have hooves.
Except elephants.
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Old 07-25-2019, 05:00 PM
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Except elephants.
Even the nails of elephants are sometimes referred to as hooves.

"Hoof" is a non-technical term. Interestingly, hyraxes, the elephant's closest relatives, have blunt hoof like nails, even the ones that climb trees.
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Old 07-25-2019, 05:40 PM
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I suspect it has to do with maneuverability and in the case of pack animals like wolves, hunting strategies.

According to this list, the to 12 fastest land mammals are nearly evenly split between hooved (5) vs pawed (7) animals. With four of the seven pawed animals, predators. However, speed isn't everything. You've seen it on a nature program, hooved animal outruns a pawed predator, tries to take a turn, stumbles and falls. Predator turns on a dime and pounces.

On the other hand, I once saw a bird swoop down on a fluttering butterfly, I thought the butterfly was done for, but it made a slow graceful turn (almost a sidestep) and the bird missed!

Last edited by lingyi; 07-25-2019 at 05:43 PM.
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Old 07-26-2019, 01:37 AM
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Even the nails of elephants are sometimes referred to as hooves.
I suspect something got lost in translation with that one.
The word “hoof” has two dictionary definitions: 1st the foot of an ungulate mammal, 2nd the
horny covering of the end of the foot in hoofed mammals
Elephants aren't ungulates, and the second definition is amusingly tautological.

And sure, if I google "elephant hoof" I'll get thousands of results. But generally (which was your qualifier) elephants are considered to have nails not hooves.

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Old 07-26-2019, 02:16 AM
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brossa:



Not sure I understand your (seemingly) derisive "heh" here. Leviticus says camels do not have CLOVEN hooves, not that they don't have hooves at all. Camels' hooves are partially cloven - but the Leviticus doesn't consider hooves "cloven" unless fully so.
You're right --- his derisive "heh" should have been reserved for the insects that walk on all fours (Lev 11:20-23).
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Old 07-26-2019, 07:48 AM
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Tony Sinclair:

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You're right --- his derisive "heh" should have been reserved for the insects that walk on all fours (Lev 11:20-23).
The use of the word "all" in the translation (as I see it in the NIV) is a mistake. Nowhere in the original Hebrew does it imply that any insects have only four legs. It means anything that can fly that uses four legs specifically for walking, and two special ones for jumping. It names four species which are exceptions to the general rule that the category is non-Kosher.
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Old 07-26-2019, 03:54 PM
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My thought is that hooves are for minor digging, they work better for scraping the ground - hence hooved animals are typically grazers. It's just a coincidence that some hoofy grazers avoid being dinner by running fast (horses, antelope) while others instead put their head down and fight fight with horns, typically (cows).
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Old 07-26-2019, 04:46 PM
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Tapirs kind of fit the idea of paws in that they have pads and their toes are hoofed, like claws in reverse. Wouldn't birds fit in both catagories of prey/predator as well? They all have claws of some kind.
Birds aren't mammals... Damn I'm dumb some days...
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Old 07-26-2019, 05:05 PM
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I suspect something got lost in translation with that one.
Not at all. I've frequently seen elephant nails referred to as hooves in the technical literature. For example, from Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition), Vol. II, p. 1277:

Quote:
There are five toes on each foot, but the outer pair may be vestigial, so that some digits do not have hooves (nails). The Asiatic elephant has four hooves (occasionally five) on the hind foot and five on the forefoot, and the African elephant has three on the hind foot and five on the forefoot.
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The word “hoof” has two dictionary definitions: 1st the foot of an ungulate mammal, 2nd the
horny covering of the end of the foot in hoofed mammals
Elephants aren't ungulates, and the second definition is amusingly tautological.
Seriously? You're quoting Wikipedia at me, the Straight Dope Curator of Critters? Do you really want to get into a technical discussion of mammalian taxonomy and anatomy with me?

The definition of ungulate has changed over time. From the Ultimate Ungulate:

Quote:
Literally, "ungulate" refers to any animal with hooves - a hoof being an enlarged toenail (see below). However, in practice, the use of the name "ungulate" has been inconsistent. While it was originally used to refer to the orders Artiodactyla (even-toed) and Perissodactyla (odd-toed) - the "true" ungulates - over time the term expanded to seven different extant Mammalian orders . . . some of which have no hooves whatsoever! This broadening of the definition was based on presumed family relationships - relationships that recent advances have shown to be artificial. As a result, ungulate is now understood to have no taxonomic significance, and its definition has returned to its original descriptive roots: a mammal with hooves.
At times, the Proboscidea has been considered to belong among the ungulates. And for what it's worth, the Handbook of the Mammals of the World, the most authoritative and comprehensive reference on mammal species, includes elephants in its Volume 2, titled "Hoofed Mammals," which actually features an elephant on the cover.

Last edited by Colibri; 07-26-2019 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 07-26-2019, 08:10 PM
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But why did wolves and dogs keep their paws? They don't use their claws as weapons.
The hell they don't. Wolves and dogs are carnivores. They bite and claw both as offensive and defensive moves. Ever see a playful dog pretend to bat something away? They do that with the claw side of their paw, not the back side.
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Old 07-26-2019, 11:13 PM
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Herbivores (ungulates, horses, etc.) have hooves; predators (felids and canids) have paws. That seems to be a general rule when it comes to medium and large land mammals that either run from predators or run to chase down prey.

So I get why big cats and bears evolved paws - they use their claws as weapons. But why did wolves and dogs keep their paws? They don't use their claws as weapons. They do dig - is that the only reason? I wonder if a hooved wolf could run even faster, and thus have a higher likelihood of catching prey.

Thoughts? Were there ever hooved predators, or prey animals with paws?
Put mittens on your hand and grab your dog. Now do it with gloves. Tough to grab your prey when you basically have a stub or two instead of four or five flexible ones.
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Old 07-27-2019, 01:05 AM
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Kangaroos bring up an interesting point -- in my understanding, all marsupials crawl through the pouch after birth to find the nipple, using hands, and thus all marsupials have some sort of modified hands in their upper limbs.
But why are hands or hand-like limbs needed to find the nipple?

Both kittens & puppies are blind when born, and for the first couple of weeks, yet they successfully find a nipple to suck. Between feeling with their muzzle and smelling with their nose, they survive by the millions. (It's now kitten/puppy season at our humane society, and the arrivals seem endless!) They don't use their paws much in finding the nipple.

For that matter, equines (horses, etc.) have hooves, yet they have no trouble finding a nipple. I don't understand this comment.
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Old 07-27-2019, 01:21 AM
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But why are hands or hand-like limbs needed to find the nipple?
It's actually to find the opening to the pouch, rather than the nipple, since the nipples are inside the pouch. A newborn marsupial, which is in an extremely undeveloped state, must clamber from the birth canal through the mother's fur in order to reach the pouch.

This is a newborn kangaroo. It's obviously far less developed than a newborn puppy, kitten, or colt.
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Old 07-29-2019, 07:33 AM
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Put mittens on your hand and grab your dog. Now do it with gloves. Tough to grab your prey when you basically have a stub or two instead of four or five flexible ones.
Gryphon, an especially beloved dog of DesertRoomie's would sometimes come up to her when she was sitting at the computer. After looking at her adorably a moment, he would raise his paw and put it on her hand, with the space between the toe pads and the main pad on the metacarpal-phalange knuckle of her index finger, then flex his toes, squeezing the knuckle.

We figured he was doing his best to hold her hand. She didn't even mind she couldn't type so well with that hand for a few moments.
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Old 07-29-2019, 08:32 AM
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Not at all. I've frequently seen elephant nails referred to as hooves in the technical literature. For example, from Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition), Vol. II, p. 1277:
I'll concede that, but I trust you'll grant it's not common generally. I mean, "elephant hoof"? <9000 Goggle hits. That's ... not a lot.
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Seriously? You're quoting Wikipedia at me, the Straight Dope Curator of Critters?
a) it's convenient and
b) I think of you much more as "Bird Man"
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The definition of ungulate has changed over time.
Sure. And the grouping of afrotherians as a separate clade from the laurasiatherian actual ungulates is the most up-to-date, being as it is based off genetics and not less certain things like dentition and gross anatomy.

Now, if you want to throw cladistics out the door and just go with loose groups, that's fine, but you're still left with the problem that, like I said, "Ungulate = a mammal with hooves" is a useless circular definition if you define "hoof" as "the foot of an ungulate mammal". That's just simple logic.

Quote:
At times, the Proboscidea has been considered to belong among the ungulates.
Sure. But also often not. And that's becoming more common. Mostly because of the mol. genetics work done to define afrotherians as a valid clade.

Basically, any grouping that includes elephants and cows and excludes golden moles and tenrecs is not a valid one, IMO.

Also, just from an anatomy aspect, I personally don't consider elephant nails to be hoofs because they're not weight-bearing in the way, say, a rhino's are, despite the resemblance.

Quote:
And for what it's worth, the Handbook of the Mammals of the World, the most authoritative and comprehensive reference on mammal species, includes elephants in its Volume 2
The also include aardvarks and dassies in that volume. Are you arguing either of those are hoofed?

Last edited by MrDibble; 07-29-2019 at 08:35 AM.
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Old 07-30-2019, 02:58 AM
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If anyone else is interested , here are a couple articles on afrotherians and the exciting work done in just the last 2 decades to overturn traditional anatomy- and behaviour-based mammal groupings.

Even Walker's Mammals of the World is changing its tune - try "Search in this book" for the word "hoof". Hopefully the Handbook will also come around to the 21st C. sometime.
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Old 07-30-2019, 05:06 AM
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Of course, you will see "hooves" Sorry, I was just using Walker's as a reference for the grouping, not hooves, the thing about looking for hoof was a joke, thought I'd clarify.

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Old 07-30-2019, 10:45 AM
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Well, I must say that's an impressive amount of research to quibble about a irrelevant and pointless semantic issue, even for GQ.

However, none of what you posted actually refutes the fact that:

1) Elephants have frequently been referred to, even in the technical literature, as having hooves.
2) Elephants have been classed with the ungulates in the past, and still may be defined as such in an informal sense.

But this doesn't actually have anything to do with the question in the OP, so I don't even know what the argument is about at this point.
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Old 07-30-2019, 11:16 AM
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My point is that people who say elephants have hooves, and also define a hoof as "the foot of an ungulate mammal" are wrong. Because elephants aren't ungulates.

They may have been called ungulates in the past, but that was a mistake. Perpetuating the mistake when you should know better is also wrong. Especially from the self-styled Curator of Critters...

And that wasn't all new research, I've been following the afrotherian saga with great interest for years now. Which was why I made the point about elephants not being ungulates in the first place.

And the OP's question was answered a while ago.

Last edited by MrDibble; 07-30-2019 at 11:17 AM.
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Old 07-30-2019, 11:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrDibble View Post
My point is that people who say elephants have hooves, and also define a hoof as "the foot of an ungulate mammal" are wrong. Because elephants aren't ungulates.

They may have been called ungulates in the past, but that was a mistake. Perpetuating the mistake when you should know better is also wrong. Especially from the self-styled Curator of Critters...
This is the kind of ridiculous semantic argument that non-scientists get into because they fail to recognize that terms may have both a scientific and a popular definition. Yes, today ungulate has a restricted meaning in a scientific context. However, the term is still valid as a non-technical term. It's not a "mistake," it's just using the term in a different sense.

Next, you'll be arguing that sharks are not fish or that apes are not monkeys* or that we always need to refer to birds as reptiles because of changes in technical taxonomy.

*Contrary to the usual nit-pick, recent research has shown that apes are in fact monkeys, since there is no cladistic group that includes all monkeys that doesn't also include apes.
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Old 07-30-2019, 01:46 PM
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This is the kind of ridiculous semantic argument that non-scientists get into because they fail to recognize that terms may have both a scientific and a popular definition.
Firstly - I have a science degree and have worked as a field scientist. In another life, but still...
Secondly - I assumed we were just having a discussion on a scientific basis. What with you belittling Wiki and throwing literature cites around.

I did say "f you want to throw cladistics out the door and just go with loose groups, that's fine"...but I don't see the point in having that convo, so wouldn't be joining in. Since it's the one that's thrown logic out the door as well.

And no, I'm happy calling sharks fish, and not calling birds reptiles, because I understand context.
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Old 07-30-2019, 01:48 PM
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I think the South American mara is the largest cursorial non-hoofed mammal, averaging around ten pounds more than the largest hares, and can reach a speed of 18mph.

Last edited by Trancephalic; 07-30-2019 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 07-30-2019, 02:10 PM
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Addendum to the above: I somehow made herbivorey a qualifier. There are of course plenty of omnivours and carnivores much larger than maras.

Last edited by Trancephalic; 07-30-2019 at 02:11 PM.
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Old 07-30-2019, 02:32 PM
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