My problem with Centaurs

So here’s my problem with Centaurs, and really Unicorns too but I had to pick just one: They live in the forest. Have you ever seen a horse in the woods? No, you haven’t. Unless you made it go into the woods by riding it around. But you didn’t bump into a herd of wild horses while you were doing that.

They used to live there millions of years ago, but they looked like cats with hooves. This was before such a thing as “grasslands” really existed. So horses were tiny forest browsers, not large grass grazers. In ecology there actually is a distinction between browsing and grazing. Browsers eat leaves and tasty stuff like that, grazers eat stupid grass. A pedantic note I just corrected in a Wikipedia article, my first edit ever! But the point is in the forest being small worked out cause they could hide and move easily through dense vegetation. What were they hiding from? Terror birds. Yup, birds of terror. You’d be hiding too. Remember, birds are just feathery dinosaurs and if a chicken could eat you, it would.

Well like I said there weren’t really grasslands, until there were about 18 – 15 million years ago. Its call the Miocene Grassland Expansion, and to ecologists it’s kind of a big deal. The world got a bit hotter and bit dryer, so lush forest because arid savannah. Suddenly being small and slow don’t work so good. So you get tall enough to see over said grass, you get toothy enough to eat said grass, and you get long legged enough to hoof it through said grass.

Plus there’s the whole herd mentality. It’s hard having a herd in the forest, I’m honestly not sure if the dawn horse (awesome common name for the hyracotherium) lived communally or not, but if it did there’s no way they existed in such large groups as you’re likely to find among modern plain-dwellers.

Back to Centaurs, what’s my problem exactly? Well my problem is there’s no way those guys live in forests (FUN FACT: All centaurs are guys, the females are Centaurides) because they’re too big, especially in a group. Why are they said to live there then? I have two thoughts. 1) Forests are dark foreboding places and are exotic if only because 2) we as human beings evolved in grasslands. That’s our home turf. And you can see for a ways in a grassland, at least you hope you can see, but there’s probably a hungry lion waiting for you. I honestly think that’s the reason so many stories of myth involve the forest in the first place. It’s easy to access, but still mysterious, tough to navigate and there are plenty of places for scary stuff to hide.

If there really were centaurs (are there people out there claiming there are? Probably, people is weird) then we’d see them all over the place cause they’d be out running with the pronghorns. Charlie would probably befriend one, for he is a friend to all animals.

Finally, I leave you with a clip of another reason to have a problem with centaurs. Enjoy!

Centaur Job Interview with Christopher Walken


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63 Responses to My problem with Centaurs

  1. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    what about moose? they’re big like horses and live in forests! deer and elk are pretty big and they live in packs. ALSO! also. wood bison!

  2. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    also, just because the centaurs live in the forrest NOW doesn’t mean that they evolved in the forrest. maybe they moved to the forrest because they like eating boar or something.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

      None of those animals are horses. Nor are they humans. Let alone half of each. Actually are any of those even perissodactyls?

  3. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    your point, as i understand it, isn’t that horses don’t live in the woods. because centaurs aren’t horses.
    your point is that something the size and shape of a horse, that behaves like a horse, can’t live in the forrest.

    and i’m saying that the forests of north america are full of animals which are the build and shape of horses.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

      I’m saying from an ecological perspective the evolution of grasslands and the evolution of horses over time are highly correlated to the point of grasslands being causal to the current morphology of equids. Arbitrarily placing a horse-esque mythological creature in the forest defies ecological logic even if it makes thematic sense to have the hidden exist in the woods.

  4. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    that might make sense, except the teeth of centaurs are different from the teeth of horses, so they probably didn’t evolve eating grass. ALSO, they could have moved into the forests.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

      Dentition is a legitimate point of contention. The evolution of hypsondonty from brachyodonty in horses is a huge part of that transition for browsing to grazing. Getting our hands on a centaur skull is the only way to really settle that though because I refuse to accept that they just have human teeth. That’s boring.

      • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

        wow those are big words.

        i guess the problem with paleontology is that no one has ever found the top half of a centaur, and we have to make deductions based on the leg and wang bones you must have dug up, eh?

        also, they eat their dead.

        • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

          I guess the problem with physics is no one has ever found the top half of a centaur, either!

          Paleontologists make informed deductions based on similar extant taxa all the time. According to statistical models science in general is only aware of about 1% of all the life that has ever lived on earth, most of which is long dead. We gotta work with the best data available at the time.

          Where are you getting that they eat their dead? You’re just racist against centaurs. Centaurist!

          • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

            if they don’t eat there dead then where are all the centaur bones?

  5. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    unless you’re saying that, to get hooves, centaurs must have evolved on teh grasslands. is that what you’re saying?

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

      There are more differences than just hooves. Digestion is done differently in the two groups, which is relevant when debating grazing vs. browsing. The general rule is that large animals can eat large amounts of crappy food and do alright as opposed to small animals which need high quality stuff. Squirrels need nuts, but elephants get by on grass. I think scale and calorie use indicate that something the size of a centaur, especially in a group, would likely be in a Savannah than dense forest.

      • PatrickNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

        If you are carnivorous (and apparently centaurs eat their dead) this is a moot point. Meat is a high quality food and they can live wherever they want. They probably feel less naked in the forest. Especially the females.

        • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

          There are no female centaurs, this was covered in the post. I have no problem with centaurides living wherever they please, it is the centaurs I have issue with.

          • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

            the chick horse-women live in the woods. and the centaurs spend all their time in the woods looking for them.

            ryan your hatred of centaurs is interfering with your reasoning.

          • PatrickNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

            Really? I have to say “centaurs and centaurides” everytime? There isn’t a term I can use that is generalized enough to include both genders of the species? I maintain that “centaurs” is a perfectly good word to be used as an all inclusive noun in this case.

  6. RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    @ben in response to lacking centaur bones: There are many taphonomic processes that could effect why we don’t see the upper halves of centaurs in the fossil record. For all we know some of the horses/hominids we’ve found ARE centaurs and either half just wasn’t found with the trunk/torso. THINK ABOUT IT!

    Also porcupines like to drag bones into caves to appease their bigfoot masters, I read that somewhere once on the internet.

    • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

      Do the bigfoots (feet?—what is the plural??) eat the bones, or do they use them in a type of design scheme for their caves? If so, do they have a kind of Queer Eye for the Furry Guy show that takes place in caves all over the the nation?

      • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

        The only human to ever see it happen is Justin, but then he was integrated into their society never to bee seen or heard from again save for the occasional blog comment.

  7. CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    Couldn’t it be that they just evolved in the more grasslandish areas then moved into the forest to escape being killed by us humans?? I know if someone was likely to come after me with torches and pitchforks, I would be more likely to go for cover. Then again, I would think that if anyone was to come out on the top of a human/centaur fight, I would think it would be the centaur. So, why wouldn’t the centaurs simply wipe us out and stay where they were? Not sure what the point of all that was, but you’ve finally covered a topic I can actually converse in.

    • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

      i know right?!

      or maybe they went into the forest to get away from hercules. a famous centaur hater! just like ryan!

      • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

        (by the way hercules could totally beat a centaur in a fight)

        • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

          But could he beat two, or a whole herd?

          • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:15 pm #


          • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

            it depends if he can pick up tree trunks and boulders, or just use his fists.

  8. jyeakelNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    I’m going to have to side with Ben on this one… My reasoning: horses are thought to be hypergrazers based on their dentition, morphology, etc… then they looked at the isotopes & microwear of Floridian paleo-horses (still Equus), and despite their dentition (hypsodont- suggestive of a hypergrazer), they did both- in some cases they were pure browsers (I think this was a Science paper by MacFadden or something?). Another paper gave evidence to show that these horses were not starving either, so it wasn’t a ‘last ditch effort’ scenario. Hence, behavioral plasticity trumps morphology. Now I’m going back to the woods to disappear for another year or so.

    • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:08 pm #


    • PatrickNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

      Back to the woods to make your porcupine slaves gather more bones of centaurs (and centaurides too) in an effort to appease you.

  9. RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    @Patrick – Yes, you have to say both words every-time. When I say centaurs I mean males only and it’s my blog post! You can write your own post about centaurs and centaurides if you like. ;-P

    @Carissa – Hadn’t even considered human/centaur interaction! Great point.

    @Justin – I’m familiar with MacFadden, I’ll have to track down that paper, sounds cool. Your point about behavioral plasticity is valid, especially as one who lives in the woods presumably with a herd of centaurs.

    In summary, this post was supposed to be a thinly veiled attempt to teach the good people something about horse/grassland coevolution in the guise of bitching about centaurs. You guys all missed the point. Except Justin, he’s cool.

  10. benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    @ryan are centaurs insects?

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

      I think conventional wisdom would indicate that if they’re anything they’re mammals. Why do you ask?

      • Some CentaurNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

        Possibly this concept art:

        • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

          So yeah, that’s awesome.

        • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

          That is all types of creepy. Yet, there is something about it that is just so cool.

        • DaynaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

          So, that’s awesome. And, if praying mantis could evolve into giant creatures, I’m voting insect looking centaur.

          • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

            “If” is the operative word, because they can’t. Insect size is limited in part by oxygen diffusion across spiraea’s. Get too big and that can’t happen.

          • DaynaJDNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

            Yes, thanks for the biol lesson. That’s why I used the word “if.” That whole trachea system just doesn’t work for larger animals, surface ratio to volume thing. Because spiders are scary enough. I don’t need them to be 8′ on top of that!

          • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

            If there were 8′ spiders (or any insect for that matter) running around I do not believe I would take a step out of my front door. Creepy-crawly things wig me out.

      • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

        6 legs

        • benNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

          maybe they’re a kind of evolved lobster

          • PatrickNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

            Arthropods but not insects?

          • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

            I think lungs, hair and size trump appendages. All you need are some hox gene duplications to get a few new limbs.

  11. ChrissyNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    I think the real question here is where are centaurids on the vertebrate lineage? Are they more closely related to ancient horses or to primates – as in which half is the analogous set of characteristics? Binocular vision, gripping hands, omnivory, and a nice fat brain suggest arboreal primate origins, while the horse bit may be an analogous way of dealing with retreating forests. Rather than walking upright, they grew themselves some hooves after a hox gene epigenetic misfire. Or vice versa. An ancient centaurid may resemple a bush baby stuck on a dawn horse, with modern centaurs being an fantastic example of co-evolution.

  12. DaynaJDNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Another question is why is it asumed that centaurs live in herds. There are examples of larger animals living in forestd that are more solitary, ie okapi. Maybe there are a few centaurs per forest with relatively large territories so that food compition is low thus thecforests of not destroyed.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

      Horses are herd animals, humans are tribal, I’m just sticking with that theme.

      • DaynaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

        True, horses are herd animals. Going back to my okapi examples, the giraffe is the closest living relative to the okapi. Both have similar body plans, diets, etc. Giraffes, for whatever reason, moved out to the plans where they roam the grasslands. Okapi live in the rainforest.

        Centaurs and horses couldn’t have evolved into separate paths forcing the centaurs, for whatever reason – maybe they couldn’t compete with other grassland animals – to the forest where they have diverged to be forest dwellers?

  13. JacobNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    *cough* Engineer, checking in.

    If my mytho-biology is correct, Centaurs are quite intelligent, yes?

    So perhaps, like Elves, they made the conscious decision to go and live on the forest, after evolving on the grasslands. There’s lots of food there, and they, like many aboriginal human tribes, probably value their tribal secrecy. So a forest seems like a good place for them to hide.

    I think the more likely explanation, however, is that some sicko early human had butt-sex with a horse and had a retard horse-human baby. Because that’s how evolution works, apparently

    “You’re the retarded offspring of five monkeys havin’ butt-sex with a fish-squirrel, congratulations!”

    • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

      Intelligence does add a layer of complexity. I’m sure we could just stop having fun and start modeling things with algorithms. *Yawn*

    • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

      A fish-squirrel. Jacob, you are a very twisted man. I like it.

  14. Some UnicornNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Umm… wow.

    It needs to be said that the Unicorn as “Big ol’ horse with a horn stuck on” is a very very recent convention. Originally, unicorns were described as looking more like deer (forest dwellers!) or antelopes.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      Or a goat? I once saw a goat with only one horn.

      • RyanNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

        Plus they got the chinstache thing going on.

      • DaynaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

        Unicorns are cool. I believe the antelope you’re talking about is the oryx. Probably the Arabian Oryx. Very pretty antelopes with long horns that curve back.

  15. DaynaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Soooo, I was looking at the time stamps for all the comments… What do you guys do that allows you to sit on the computer all day and play on this blog? I’m apparently in the wrong field. LOL.

    • CarissaNo Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

      I just happen not to have Friday classes. Granted I should have been working on my homework, but centaurs are a lot more fun then Victorian literature.

      • RyanNo Gravatar 13 November, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

        Our jobs require us to sit at the computer for a large chunk of the day, makes the internet commenting manageable distraction.

  16. Dustin K.No Gravatar 12 November, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    Am I the only person who thinks “Centaur: they must faceplant EVERY TIME they stop galloping?” Unless you start making their human torso very small, how would they not overbalance all over the place. There’s a reason the last few times they showed up on film (in the Forbidden Forest, of all places for a herd to end up…), they looked like bad (read: awesome) Harryhausen effects! The physics are just wrong! When you get that overbalanced, your head starts shrinking, giraffe-style… they would need to have marathoner torsos with shrunken heads!

    Filthy half-breeds.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 13 November, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

      I thought they looked pretty good in the new Narnia movies.

  17. XerophytesNo Gravatar 30 November, 2010 at 6:53 am #

    Centuars move to forest to protect themselves against Harpies and Sirens.

  18. WillllllNo Gravatar 30 January, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    Bit late on this, I know, but the Ovid quote in ‘pedia (on _Kentaurides_) states “In the high woods”; high woods can be more open with large glades, so plenty of moor-like grass and running-space for big grazers.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 31 January, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Never too late to contribute. Love that you pulled form the original source but not sure I follow the leap from high woods to open spaces. Where are you getting the definition of high woods? It’s not a term I’m familiar with.


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