November 18, 2008

Scientists Reconstruct Ancient Woolly Rhino Skull

Scientists have pieced together the skull of an ancient woolly rhinoceros in Europe.

Researchers discovered the 53 skull fragments in a gravel pit at the foot of the Kyffhäuser range, near Bad Frankenhausen in Germany around 1900.

The mammal was just 12 years old when it died some 460,000 years ago, researchers reported in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The extinct mammals reached a length of three-and-a-half meters in adulthood and, unlike their modern relatives, were covered in shaggy hair and had two large horns on the bridges of their noses, researchers said.

The team says the find from Germany fills a gap in our understanding of how these animals evolved.

After examining the cranium, they assigned the specimen to Coelodonta tologoijensis, an Asian woolly rhino species that had not previously been described in Europe.

"This is the oldest woolly rhinoceros found in Europe, and it gives us a precise date for the first appearance of cold-climate animals spreading throughout Asia and Europe during the ice ages," said researcher Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke, a paleontologist at the Frankfurt Senckenberg Research Institute.

The mammals were confined to steppe environments in continental Asia.

Scientists said their diet began as rather mixed, but as conditions became more arid, they evolved into specialists in browsing for steppe food that grew nearer to the ground.

"Analysis of the Frankenhausen specimen shows that Coelodonta tologoijensis carried its head low along the ground and had a lawnmower-like mouth with a huge set of grinding teeth," Kahlke said. "As the climate became colder, these animals became more efficient at utilizing the available food."

Image Courtesy Wikipedia


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