Among jumping animals it may serve as a balance, as in the case of jerboas and kangaroos, while in the latter it is also used as a support when resting; among many hoofed mammals it is used as a fly-whisk; and in whales and dolphins, as well as in the African Potamogale and the North American musquash, it plays an important part in swimming.
As instances of such combinations, some of the (probably herbivorous) Eocene monkeys with arboreal limbs have teeth so difficult to distinguish from those of the herbivorous ground-living Eocene horses with cursorial limbs that at first in France and also in America they were both classed with the hoofed animals.
In the Miocene Agriochoerus, which typifies a second sub-family (Agriochoerinae), there is no gland-pit in the skull, of which the orbit is open behind; while the upper incisors are wanting in the adult and the terminal toe-bones are claw-like rather than of the hoofed type.
Accordingly, it was at this epoch that the small ancestral insectivorous mammals first forsook their arboreal habitat to try a life on the open plains, where their descendants developed on the one hand into the carnivorous and other groups, in which the toes are armed with nails or claws, and on the other into the hoofed group, inclusive of such monsters as the elephant and the giraffe.
We observe the contemporaneous and largely independent radiations of the hoofed animals in South America, in Africa and in the great ancient continent comprising Europe, Asia and North America; we observe the Cretaceous radiation of hoofed animals in the northern hemisphere, followed by a second radiation of hoofed animals in the same region, in some cases one surviving spur of an old radiation becoming the centre of a new one.
More or less independently, Huxley, Kowalevsky and Cope restored the stem ancestor of the hoofed animals, or ungulates, a restoration which has been nearly fulfilled by the discovery, in 1873, of the generalized type Phenacodus of northern Wyoming.
As regards the feet, a reduction in the number of digits from the typical five is a frequent feature, more especially among the hoofed mammals, where the culmination in this respect is attained by the existing members of the horse tribe and certain representatives of the extinct South American Proterotheriidae, both of which are monodactyle.
These bones, although separate, have their adjacent surfaces more closely applied than is the case in the latter; while in this and the earlier genera the terminal toe-bones indicate that the foot was of the normal hoofed type.