Note: The pygmy hippo drawing was done using a paper scan and knock-off tablet (which I still love for some things) on my old and decrepit Windows machine. After looking at it, I think I’m going to redraw it here on my iPad.

More than you might think.

For the longest time, scientists believed that pigs were a hippos closest relative. Then…things changed.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, excited about the possibilities presented new DNA research, scientists collected and analyzed the DNA of hippos, whales, crocodiles, snakes, and thousands more species.

They wanted to know more — how right or wrong had classifications based on morphology been? What were they missing?

Ever since Linnaeus gave us Systema Naturæ, we have classified animals by their physical characteristics — their morphology. But what if their morphology only told part of the story?

As it turns out, a lot of animal family trees changed.

  • Pythons were separated from the Boidae family and into their own, Pythonidae. Although that separation had as much to do with the fact that boas give birth and pythons lay eggs as it did DNA.
  • King cobras are their own genus now – Ophiophagus (the snake eater)
  • Rattlesnakes suddenly had more species and fewer subspecies.
  • Whales and hippos are close cousins.

Wait, what?

Yes, hippos and whales are closely related.

Earlier Greeks thought they looked like a horse that adapted to the water.

Modern scientists thought they and pigs were related. I mean, I suppose you could say they are — they’re both mammals. But their teeth had similarities that led scientists to the conclusion that they were closely related.

That conclusion remained strong until about 1985, when evidence began pointing to whales and hippos having some sort of familial relationship.

Genetic research into — molecular phylogeny — changed everything.

A 1999 study showed DNA fragments that only whales and hippos possess. Further research showed that their common ancestor was a land-dwelling creature that lived about 50 million years ago.

The search for knowledge is ongoing and we’re going to find more connections and unique adaptations — like venomous lizards and thermo-regulating bird beaks.