Gerenuk, Litocranius walleri

Gerenuk

Eva Bärmann, PhD student in the Department of Zoology 2008-2012, writes:

My favourite specimen in the museum is the mounted skeleton of the Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri, H.24085) in the lower gallery. It is the only Gerenuk skeleton that I have seen mounted in this position; and when I started my PhD on antelope evolution, looking at many different antelope skulls, I was very impressed by this specimen. It is a very good portrait of this peculiar species, as it captures the astonishing feeding behaviour of Gerenuks. These close relatives of Springbok feed on the leaves of acacia and other shrubs while standing on just their back legs. They don’t even have to hold on to the twigs with their forelegs for balance. This behaviour has influenced the evolution of the Gerenuk and its morphology to a great deal. Compared to a Springbok, it looks extremely elongate. Not only the legs and the neck are very long, also the back of the head looks as if someone had pulled it out. Gerenuks have a very long and narrow snout, perfect for picking fine leaves between the acacia thorns. This specialized diet has also influenced their teeth. Most antelopes feed predominantly on grass which is very abrasive, so the tooth crowns need to be high. Gerenuks have low tooth crowns, and for a long time this was thought to be a primitive feature. Now that we know that Springboks and Gazelles are very close relatives of Gerenuks, we can infer that it is the only known example where evolution reversed from high-crowned teeth to low-crowned teeth.

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