Indohyus: Quadrupedal Walk Cycle Study

Illustration courtesy Hans Thewissen/Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy
Illustration courtesy Hans Thewissen/Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy

A nation mainly focused on dealing with basic problems such as poverty, health and education, fields such as Paleontology, like Animation in India is still in its infancy and largely seen as superfluous. Additionally the largely humid climate in all but the north and west of country makes the region bad for fossil preservation. This means there have been few Paleontological discoveries in India.

Cover of Prof Hans Thewissen's 2014 Book, The Walking Whales
Cover of Prof Hans Thewissen’s 2014 Book, The Walking Whales

One of the few critical discoveries made in India is that of a small animal that lived about 50 million years ago and discovered by Ranga Rao in 1971 in Kashmir. The importance of this find wasn’t realized until 2007 when  an assistant of Prof. Thewissen at Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy mistakenly broke the ear of one of the fossilized heads. He was about to glue it back together when the professor stopped him, finding something extraordinary, the size of one of the animal’s organs in its ear was unlike any other land mammal known today. This was an adaptation only seen in one other group of animals, Cetaceans (Whales and Dolphins).

Illustration by Garen Ewing of Darwin walking an Indohyus
Illustration by Garen Ewing of Darwin walking an Indohyus

Charles Darwin himself had introduced the dilemma caused by Cetaceans, and had theorized in his seminal work Origin of Species that Whales and Dolphins had originated from a common land ancestor. The theory naturally had him laughed at and creationists have had a field day ever since, until in the last two decades a series of discoveries in Pakistan and India have been able to chart the entire evolution path, except for the land ancestor. The 2007 discovery finally filled in this 10 million year gap (theoretically).

We had been asked to study the locomotion of a four-legged land animal as part of our animation program. I wanted to look at Indohyus as it is a very unique animal not just in how it moves but possibly has an important role in history. I decided to try and contact Prof. Thewissen, although with little expectation of a response. To my pleasant surprise he responded with helpful advice on how Indohyus may have moved. He directed me to videos of the Mouse Deer or Chevrotain (found in West and Central Africa) as a strong direction to Indohyus’ movement. Now I’m hoping to study the Chevrotain’s movement and produce a walk cycle as true as can be of this extinct animal.

Thewissen, J.G.M., Cooper, L.N., George, J.C. et al. Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2: 272.
JEAN-RENAUD BOISSERIE, FABRICE LIHOREAU, MAEVA ORLIAC, REBECCA E. FISHER, ELEANOR M. WESTON, STÉPHANE DUCROCQ; Morphology and phylogenetic relationships of the earliest known hippopotamids (Cetartiodactyla, Hippopotamidae, Kenyapotaminae), Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 158, Issue 2, 1 February 2010, Pages 325–366,
Brittany L. Coughlin, Frank E. Fish; Hippopotamus Underwater Locomotion: Reduced-Gravity Movements for a Massive Mammal, Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 90, Issue 3, 2 June 2009, Pages 675–679,
Darwin, C. and Beer, G. (1998) The Origin of Species. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

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