Which came first zebras or horses?
Which came first zebras or horses?

Which Came First: Zebras or Horses?

Which Came First: Zebras or Horses?

When it comes to the question of which came first, zebras or horses, there is a fascinating history to explore. Both zebras and horses belong to the same family, Equidae, and share a common ancestor. However, the evolution and divergence of these two magnificent creatures took place over millions of years. In this article, we will delve into the origins of zebras and horses, examining their evolutionary paths and shedding light on the question at hand.

The Evolution of Horses

The evolutionary history of horses dates back approximately 55 million years. The earliest known ancestor of the modern horse is a small mammal called Eohippus, also known as Hyracotherium. Eohippus was about the size of a dog and had four toes on its front feet and three toes on its hind feet. Over time, these early horses underwent significant changes, adapting to their environment and evolving into larger, more robust creatures.

One of the key milestones in horse evolution was the development of the single-toed hoof. This adaptation allowed horses to run faster and more efficiently, making them better suited for survival on the open grasslands. As horses continued to evolve, they grew larger in size and developed teeth specialized for grazing on grass.

By the time the Ice Age arrived, horses had spread across various parts of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. However, due to climate changes and human hunting, many horse species became extinct. The only surviving species were those that migrated to the Eurasian continent.

The Origins of Zebras

Zebras, like horses, belong to the Equidae family. However, their evolutionary path took a different course. The common ancestor of zebras, horses, and donkeys is believed to have existed around 4 million years ago. This ancestor, known as the “hipparion,” resembled a three-toed horse and lived in North America.

Over time, some populations of hipparions migrated to Africa, where they eventually evolved into the zebras we know today. The unique striped pattern of zebras is thought to have developed as a form of camouflage, helping them blend into their grassy habitats and confuse predators.

It is important to note that zebras are not direct descendants of the hipparion. Instead, they share a common ancestor with horses and donkeys. This means that zebras and horses are more like distant cousins rather than direct relatives.

Conclusion: Which Came First?

After examining the evolutionary history of zebras and horses, we can conclude that horses came first. The earliest known ancestor of the modern horse, Eohippus, appeared approximately 55 million years ago. On the other hand, the common ancestor of zebras, horses, and donkeys, the hipparion, lived around 4 million years ago.

While zebras and horses share a common ancestry, horses have a longer evolutionary history. Zebras, with their distinctive striped coats, evolved from a different branch of the Equidae family and migrated to Africa millions of years after horses had already spread across other parts of the world.


  • MacFadden, B. J. (2005). Fossil Horses: Evidence for Evolution. Science, 307(5716), 1728-1730.
  • King, S. R. B., & Nowak, R. M. (2008). Walker’s Mammals of the World. JHU Press.
  • Prothero, D. R., & Schoch, R. M. (2002). Horns, tusks, and flippers: the evolution of hoofed mammals. JHU Press.


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