Chalicotheres were a group of odd-toed ungulates, or perissodactyls, related to horses, tapirs and rhinos. But unlike their modern relatives, many species of chalicothere had long, curved claws on their forelimbs and probably knuckle-walked like gorillas and anteaters do today.
They likely evolved from small forest-dwelling animals, similar to the ancestors of horses, around 46 million years ago. They quickly divided into two groups: some became adapted to live in open grasslands, and others continued inhabiting woodlands. The group diversified and expanded from Asia, where they first appeared, to Europe, Africa and eventually North and Central America.
Although their claws were fairly big, all chalicotheres were herbivores. It was once believed that they used their forelimbs to dig tubers and roots, but studies showed that their claws and teeth didn’t present the kind of wear expected if they did so. It is now believed that, much like pandas and the extinct ground sloths, chalicotheres used their long arms and claws to reach for tree branches and strip them of vegetation. Some had bony growths on the back of their finger bones that could have been support for pads, evidence that these animals walked on their knuckles. That would prevent the claws from making contact with the ground, keeping them sharp.