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Giant Camels Once Roamed Ancient Arctic

| 6 Mar 2013 21:42

Desert-dwelling camels may just have evolved in a chillier climate.

Paleontologists in Canada's remote high arctic have uncovered fragments of bones suggesting that ancient cousins of modern camels once lived there. Analysis of fragmentary leg bones lead palaeobiologists to the conclusion that ancient, wooly camels once lived on Ellesmere island when the earth was slightly warmer. Modern Dromedary Camels, then, likely came from descendants of arctic camels that traveled over the Bering land bridge from Alaska to eastern Siberia - and from there arrived in their modern range of central Asia to northern Africa. Based on the size of the bone fragments it was quite the giant. The camel stood about 2.7 meters (nearly 9 feet) at the shoulder and weighed in at 900 kilograms (nearly 2,000 pounds.) That is, according to Science NOW, about 30% larger than a modern camel.

Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a palaeobiologist whose team discovered the bone fragments, described a few of the reasons Camels found success in an arctic environment: "The wide, flat feet that are useful for walking on sand could also have been useful for walking on snow. In addition, the hump serves as fat storage, so this could have been essential for an animal that would have to survive a long, dark, cold winter. In addition, camels have very large eyes that could also be suitable for seeing in low light that would have characterized the winter in the boreal forest."

The ancient camel would have shared its environment with greyhound-sized deer, three toed ponies, and more recognizable residents like beavers and bears. The bones found at the site were roughly 3.5 million years old. The average global temperature at the time would have been 2 to 3 degrees warmer, but the arctic would have been 14 to 22 degrees warmer - though the camel would still have had to contend with long arctic nights and extended winters. The site the bones were found, Ellesmere island, is just west of northern Greenland, about 1,200 miles north of any previous ancient camel finds.

Source: Science NOW

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