May 9, 2012
Smallest Ever Mammoth Species Identified
Researchers at London's Natural History Museum have discovered the smallest species of mammoth to ever roam the Earth -- a dwarf version of the ancient creature that was approximately the size of a modern baby Asian or African elephant, according to a statement released by the museum on Wednesday.
According to that press release, the mammoth, species Mammuthus creticus, was approximately one meter tall and weighed roughly 300kg, or half the weight of M. lamarmorai, which was previously believed to have been the smallest type of mammoth. The fossils, which were originally uncovered in Cape Malekas, Crete more than 100 years ago, had been re-examined and identified by Drs. Victoria Herridge and Adrian Lister, the fossil mammal experts at the Natural History Museum, they added.
In their findings, which have been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Drs. Herridge and Lister wrote, "Ancient DNA and geochronological evidence have been used to support a Mammuthus origin for the Cretan ℠Palaeoloxodon´ creticus, but these studies have been shown to be flawed. On the basis of existing collections and recent field discoveries, we present new, morphological evidence for the taxonomic status of ℠P´. creticus, and show that it is indeed a mammoth, most probably derived from Early Pleistocene Mammuthus meridionalis or possibly Late Pliocene Mammuthus rumanus."
BBC News explains that it was the creature's teeth that provided the evidence that it was, in fact, actually a mammoth. Those teeth were originally collected by a fossil hunter by the name of Dorothea Bale in 1904, the British news organization said, and were originally believed to have originated from dwarf species of Palaeoloxodon antiques, an elephant with straight tusks that is believed to be the evolutionary ancestor of all dwarf elephant species.
The new analysis suggests, however, that it was more closely related to mammoths than elephants. As the Telegraph reports, the researchers found that the enamel of those teeth "bore distinct mammoth hallmarks."
They also were able to gather additional evidence supporting their claims by retracting Bale's steps and discovering "a mini-sized mammoth upper arm bone," which led them to believe that the species describe here "may be descended from one of two European mammoth species, M. meridionalis and M. rumanus, which became extinct around 800,000 years ago."
In an interview with AFP, Dr. Herridge described what M. creticus may have looked like, saying that if an expert were to attempt to reconstruct its remains, "I would say OK, make it look a bit like a baby elephant but probably chunkier ... with sort of thicker limbs, stockier, and as an adult it would have had curly tusks“¦ The nearest image you're going to get is a baby Asian elephant, but with tusks."
She added that the animal was "tiny" and "probably quite cute."