Field guide training: Mammals – Part 2

Mammals can be classified regarding the shape of their feet – something a field guide needs to be familiar with. Further information can be found in the following blog.


The form of a foot or its structure is a common tool for the classification of animals, including mammals. Especially in the field this method is very popular as the foot structure can often be identified with the help of tracks.
All mammals can be divided into different groups by looking at their foot structure and their way of walking. Especially when looking at family and genus this method is of the applied. The three main ways of walking are called:

  • Plantigrade: Animals which use the whole autopodium for movement (from heel to toe), like humans or monkeys

  • Digitigrade: Animals which only use their fingers or toes (dogs and cats)

  • Unguligrade: Animals which only use the last phalanx of their toes of fingers

  • Odd-toed ungulates: Rhino or zebra

  • Even-toed ungulates: Giraffe, antelope, buffalo or wart hog

  • Near-ungulates: Elephant or rock hyrax


Evolutionary speaking, hoofs are keratinised toenails which enclose the last phalanx. The term ‘hoof’ is mainly used in reference to odd-toed and even-toed ungulates. The uneven number of toes (one to three) is characteristic for odd-toed ungulates; whereas even-toed ungulates usually have two to four toes.

By the way: A research project in molecular biology has proven that whales are close relatives of the hippopotamus and therefore related to the odd-toed ungulates.

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