Fig. 1 Digital texture. Adobe Photoshop

How could a small deer-like artiodactyl be related to the largest animal ever

Indohyus, meaning "India's pig" is thought to be the oldest relative of whales. Discovered in  Eocene deposits of the Himalayas, this small animal was once thought to be a distant relative of pigs. The original fossils were discovered by Ranga Rao in 1971 in the Dehra Dun region of India. As a side note, George Harrison recorded a song about this area. 

Rao died before completely describing the fossil material and it seemed the secerets of "India's pig" were buried along with him. But in 2007, Rao's widow gave the fossils to legendary anatomist Dr. Hans Thewissen to analyze.

By accidentally breaking the cranium, Dr. Thewissen discovered Indohyus had the same ear bones as do all modern and extinct whales. This meant that the racoon-sized Indohyus was in the whale family tree. It is rare fossil discoveries like this that have lead scientists to piece together the whale evolutionary lineage. The fact so many rare cetacean fossils have been found in the right place at the right time is unique in the history of evolutionary discoveries. Further analysis of Indohyus revealed it was actually thick boned (osteosclerotic), which also meant it was fully aquatic. Perhaps this allowed the animal to leap in the water to evade predators, much like modern chevrotains do.


How I Did It

Understanding that Indohyus could've been nocturnal, much like chevrotains, I wanted to create a night scene for this reconstruction. After making a few quick drawings, I decided on this pose (Fig. 2)  because it showed off the most notable anatomical features of the animal: The long face and long hoofed limbs. Additionally, it presented an opportunity to showcase a bit of inferred behavior.

Fig. 2 Graphite, oil, & ballpoint pen on paper. 

Once I had the right pose drawn out, I scanned the drawing and layered digital fur(Fig. 3).  Once I had the whole animal textured, it was time to work on the background.

Fig. 3 Fur texture detail

Fig. 3 Fur texture detail

I began with a perspective layout matching the rough drawing (Fig4). This would serve as the foundation for forest texture (Fig. 5). 

Fig. 4 Digital layout in Adobe Photoshop.

Fig. 5 Background texturing process

It was then a matter of compositing Indohyus into the background. This part was a little bit tricky because I had to match the light source and darken appropriate areas. Too much dark would obscure the fur details and too little contrast would remove visual emphasis. After experimenting with a few levels, I settled on a balanced look. 

Fig. 6

I wasn't too satisfied with the red tint because it didn't convey the colors of night. I changed the hue and felt it was a more proper fit for the scene. 

Fig. 7 Indohyus in its new home



Bajpai, S; Thewissen, JG; Sahni, A (November 2009). "The origin and early evolution of whales: macroevolution documented on the Indian subcontinent". J Biosci. 34 (5): 673–86. doi:10.1007/s12038-009-0060-0. OCLC 565869881. PMID 20009264

Rao, A Ranga (1971). "New mammals from Murree (Kalakot Zone) of the Himalayan foot hills near Kalakot, Jammu and Kashmir state, India". Journal of the Geological Society of India. 12 (2): 124–34.

Sample, Ian. "How Bambi Evolved into Moby-Dick." The N.p., 19 Dec. 2007. Web. <>.