Moeritherium (Greek for "Lake Moeris beast"); pronounced MEH-ree-THEE-ree-um
Swamps of northern Africa
Late Eocene (37-35 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About eight feet long and a few hundred pounds
Small size; long, flexible upper lip and nose
It's often the case in evolution that huge beasts descend from humble forebears. Although Moeritherium wasn't directly ancestral to modern elephants (it occupied a side branch that went extinct tens of millions of years ago), this pig-sized mammal possessed enough elephant-like traits to place it firmly in the pachyderm camp. Moeritherium's long, flexible upper lip and snout point to the evolutionary origins of the elephant's trunk, the same way its long front incisors can be considered ancestral to tusks. The similarities end there, though: like a small hippopotamus, Moeritherium probably spent its time half-submerged in swamps, eating soft, semi-aquatic vegetation. (By the way, one of the closest contemporaries of Moeritherium was another prehistoric elephant of the late Eocene epoch, Phiomia.)
The type fossil of Moeritherium was discovered in Egypt in 1901, near Lake Moeris (hence the name of this megafauna mammal, the "Lake Moeris beast," various other specimens coming to light over the next few years. There are five named species: M. lyonsi (the type species); M. gracile, M. trigodon and M. andrewsi (all discovered within a few years of M. lyonsi); and a relative latecomer, M. chehbeurameuri, which was named in 2006.