Picture by Tim Morris

Unspecialized species of live creatures are one of main reserves of evolution during mass extinctions. Absence of dependence on any limited resources and the ability to live in various conditions of environment are main “secret weapons” of such species. And anatomical primitiveness, characteristic for similar animals, comprises a potential opportunity for realization of various specializations in aspect of anatomy.

Among African animals hyraxes (Hyracomorpha) were such group: they had represented the order of rather ancient and rather primitive hoofed mammals. In Neocene, after mass extinction, they had formed within the limits of order some groups, differing by habit of life. One group is presented by massive ground tetrapods – flathorns from Northern Africa. The second group specialized to tree-climbing way of life and became analogues of lower primates like lories and lemurs. It is ashkoko (Ashkoko sylvaticus) from Zinj Land, or the East-African subcontinent. Except for them, in mountains of Central Africa, savannas of Northern Africa and mountains of Southern Europe representatives of the third branch of damans – running antelope-like forms, hyracolopas, live. They occupy an ecological niche of small and medium-sized antelopes, partly competing with harelopes of northern origin.
By constitution hyracolopas are similar to typical antelopes, but in closer examination they have some obviously differences. Tail at hyracolopas is not present: it was reduced at their ancestors, damans. Rear legs of these animals are little bit longer than front legs because of what the back of hyracolopas is slightly inclined forward. This is the heritage of their past way of life: obviously, hyracolopas evolved in mountains of Central or Eastern Africa, and such structure of body is typical for animals grazing on hillsides. The structure of legs uindicates these animals are rock-climbers and runners. Extremities of damans were plantigrade, and foot of rear leg had formed similarity of sucker. At hyracolopas such adaptation had disappeared: on back side of rear leg there is only a callous, permitting to sit on stones. Claws had increased and became similar to small hoofs. As against horses and antelopes, hyracolopa supports not only on hoof-like claw, but also on the subungius covered with thick cornificate skin. Lateral toes became small, and touch the ground at movement only a little. On forward leg only two fingers from four, characteristic for daman, remained: second and larger third ones.
Head of hyracolopas is lengthened and low, eye-sockets are shifted in forward part of skull. Brain cavity is low and long, that clearly indicates on – alas! – low intellectual qualities of these animals. But at top of skull small sagittal crest stretches, to which strong chewing muscles attach. In dental system of hyracolopas features, characteristic for ancestors are kept: gnawing type of incisors. The bottom jaw is short and a little bit “lengthened” by two large incisors. With their help hyracolopas can dig out bunches of grass with roots. If necessary incisors turn to fighting weapon: at the attack of small predators hyracolopas can bite strongly.
At hyracolopas there are large eyes providing good sight. At mountain species eyes look forward, rather than in sides: so the three-dimensional sight, which helps to estimate distance before jump, is provided to an animal. Hearing at hyracolopas is good; ears are big, rounded and mobile. Sense of smell is advanced well: nasal cavity is short, but high. Smells play the significant role in life of these animals: on back of hyracolopas there is the specific gland, producing an odorous secret. With its help animals mark territory: for this purpose the hyracolopa rears on back legs, nestles by back to the stone or tree, and rubs against it.
Hyracolopas live in small herds numbering up to 15 - 30 animals. In herd there is no strictly expressed hierarchy, and its structure may strongly vary in due course: the herd may break up, or two herds mix up at one pasture and any time graze together. For night hyracolopas hide in bushes.
All species of this group of herbivores eat grassy plants, but can eat young branches of trees and bushes. The stomach of hyracolopas is complex, three-chambered and similar to stomach of ruminant animals. In forward chamber of stomach the colony of symbiotic protozoans, similar to those at ruminant animals, develops. They help animal to digest rough cellulose. The blind gut is poorly advanced.
All hyracolopas have kept a habit, characteristic for damans: animals leave dung always in the same place. Such behavior has the special role in their life: by smell of dung animals learn about the congeners, not seeing them at all. Some animals, living in one group, leave dung in same place.
Fast hyracolopa leads atypical for this genus way of life: it prefers plain habitats, living in savannas of Northern Africa. This animal reaches height about 60 cm at a shoulder. Wool of this animal is colored grayish-beige color with narrow and dense cross strips on body. On all legs there are white “stockings”.
Head of fast hyracolopa is colored brighter, than body: through eyes and forehead black “band” stretches, which ends wash out on neck; tip of muzzle is white. Such contrast colouring of head helps to warn congeners of danger: the disturbed animal highly lifts head, and even rears, looking over district. And colouring of its head becomes appreciable from afar, serving as an alarm signal for neighbours.
Due to strong rear legs fast hyracolopa can make long jumps, escaping from the enemy: up to six meters in length and two meters in height. Hoof-like claws are wide; therefore animal can walk on fenny ground and swims rather good. Frequently hyracolopas of this species escape from predators in water or in swamp.
The courtship season at all hyracolopas passes roughly: males gather small harems of females, jealously preserving them from each other. Threatening the opponent, they growl and show incisors, having opened mouth widely. If contenders do not concede each other, they can even fight, biting each other in back and nape, and striking impacts by forward legs.
Once a year at the female well advanced independent twin cubs are born. They are able to rise of legs at the first hour of life, and the daily cub does not lag behind mother. The young growth is colored not so bright, as adults: cubs don’t have “mask” and white sites on muzzle. They appear only at the age of about one year. At one and half year age young females become able to breeding. Males grow longer, and mature only up to age of two years. Other species of hyracolopas live in mountains, and their area is limited to one or several ranges:
Rift hyracolopa (Hyracolopa riftica) lives in mountain woods of Central Africa, where it is the analogue of small antelopes like the duiker. Its growth at a shoulder reaches approximately 40 cm. Wool of this hyracolopa is colored dark brown, almost black color, and only tip of muzzle, throat and chest are white. In mountains where it lives, the weather may be rather cool, and ears of rift hyracolopa are covered from external side with short wool. This animal eats various kinds of vegetation: grass, ferns, tubers and bulbs of plants. It meets in herds numbering up to fifty adult animals.
Wooly-eared hyracolopa (Hyracolopa trichotis) lives even higher, than rift hyracolopa: on open hillsides with poor vegetation. This animal differs in dexterity and quickness: it can clamber on almost steep slopes. The wool of this species is colored brown, and only on throat of the adult male white wool grows. On back in the area of specific gland long wool grows. For protection against cold ears of this species are much shorter, than at relative species, and are covered with long wool from external side. This animal gathers in small groups and carefully marks borders of territory: fodder resources in mountains are poor, and the herd should have rather extensive territory.
Atlas hyracolopa (Hyracolopa atlassica) is the species of savannas and foothills of Atlas Mountains, inhabiting also rocky areas of south-west of Europe. It partly competes with flatland harelopes, eating rigid plants. The body is colored yellow, on back there is black longitudinal strip. On rear legs, and at separate individuals even on front ones, there are black cross strips on white background. Cheeks and throat are white.
Persian hyracolopa (Hyracolopa persica) inhabits mountains of Near East formed instead of Persian Gulf as a result of movement of Arabian lithospheric plate. The area of this species is partly crossed with area of rockloper (Lepotragus nivalis) from the order of hoofed lagomorphs (Ungulagomorpha). But both species do not compete with each other because of life in different habitats. Rockloper prefers dry slopes of mountains, and Persian hyracolopa prefers damper valleys overgrown with bushes. It frequently lives on hillsides overgrown by wood. This species lives in herds numbering 10 – 15 individuals. Colouring of Persian hyracolopa is spotty: general colouring is grey, on sides and groats small black spots are scattered. Forehead and back part of neck are also black. On internal side of forward and rear legs there are sites of white wool.
Alpine hyracolopa (Hyracolopa alpina) inhabits mountains of Southern Europe from Pyrenees to Balkan Mountains along the northern edge of Mediterranean swamps. It is the largest species of genus, reaching the size of domestic goat. It differs from other relatives in long wool with rich underfur that permits this animal to live in high mountains. General colouring of this animal is grey with black longitudinal strip on back and black spots on groats; legs are dark.

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