Tyrannosaurs, what we don’t know


This video is called Tyrannosaur Rivalry – Planet Dinosaur – Episode 3 – BBC One.

From the Things We Don’t Know blog:

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ten Things We Don’t Know about Tyrannosaurs

Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, the tyrannosaurs, are among the best known and most popular dinosaurs – and yet there is still plenty we don’t know about these fascinating creatures…

1. What age could T. rex live to?
It’s possible to work out how old a tyrannosaur was when it died, by looking at growth rings inside its bones – just like counting the rings of a tree. The oldest T. rex yet examined in this way has been nicknamed Sue, and is on display at the Field Museum. It’s thought that Sue was 28 years old[1] when it died. Only about a dozen skeletons have been cut up to determine their age, and there are other T. rex’s that look like they might be older than Sue, but haven’t had their growth rings counted. This means that we really don’t exactly know the maximum age of T. rex; it’s possible that it will turn out to be much more than 28 years once the sample of adults has increased.

2. How were tyrannosaurs related?
Evolutionary trees are diagrams that can be drawn to show how animals are related to each other. Researchers gather data and use this to try to reconstruct the evolutionary history of a group of species – but it isn’t always simple. At the moment there are two versions of the evolutionary tree of tyrannosaurs[2][3] which differ in which species they include, and where they appear on the tree. As more data is collected, trees produced by different groups of researchers usually become more similar. It is likely that with more time and research we will, eventually, find a history that all of the available data supports. Until then though, how tyrannosaurs evolved remains something we don’t know.

3. What did their eggs, embryos, & hatchlings look like?
Despite the popularity of tyrannosaurs, we don’t know anything about the earliest growth stages of any tyrannosaur species. Currently, there are no skulls or skeletons of embryos or juveniles up to a year old. We don’t even know what a tyrannosaur eggshell looks like – very few embryos have been discovered inside fossilised eggs, which is the only way we could be certain of the species the egg belonged to, so the number of dinosaur species identified in this way is very low. It could be that tyrannosaur eggs have already been collected (among those that currently lack embryonic bones) but we just haven’t realised it yet! Hopefully this situation, at least for eggs and embryos, will change very soon as dinosaur eggs are being discovered all the time in places such as China.

4. Were there two groups of Tyrannosaurs in Laramidia?

It has been suggested that tyrannosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of western North America (Laramidia) can be divided into a northern group and a southern group[3]. However the fact that the fossil record from that period is incomplete throws doubt on this hypothesis. The far north and the far south of this region are virtually blank slates in terms of tyrannosaur fossils, and no fossils have yet been found from the 20 million years following the split of North America into the subcontinents of Laramidia and Appalachia. Once specimens have been found to fill the gaps, there is a chance that the proposed two groups will lose support and be replaced by something more complex.

5. What Tyrannosaurs lived in Appalachia?
It is extremely rare to find tyrannosaur fossils in the eastern region of North America, which existed as an island continent called Appalachia during the Late Cretaceous. In fact, only two species have been found, we only know of one skeleton for each of them, and neither is complete. We can tell from these that the eastern tyrannosaurs are more primitive than their western counterparts; they have shallow snouts and large arms, in contrast to the deep snouts and short arms seen in the Laramidian and Asian species. Finding out more about these animals would give clues as to what the ancestors of tyrannosaurs looked like in North America before it was split into two, but the rarity of these fossils means that Appalachia may remain the ‘dark continent’ of tyrannosaur history.

6. How long ago did the Nemegt species live?
The Nemegt Formation in the Mongolian People’s Republic is a rich source of fossils, and includes well-known tyrannosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus bataar (Tarbosaurus) and Alioramus. It is clear from looking at these fossils that they are closely related to those found in Laramidia, which suggests animals moved from one area to the other. Currently, however, we don’t know when, or in which direction, the exchange occurred. It is thought the Nemegt fauna occurred close to the end of the age of dinosaurs, but before the last slice of time that included T. rex. Often, the age of rocks can be determined by looking for the presence of certain radioactive materials, but unfortunately this hasn’t been possible in the Nemegt Formation as the materials aren’t present. This means we only have a rough idea of how long ago the rocks formed[4]. To narrow it down from the current estimate of 80-66 million years ago, we need to find a new area of rock that is possible to date but, unfortunately, this seems unlikely.

7. Did advanced tyrannosaurs have scales?
We have all seen pictures and models of T. rex looking like a giant lizard, but in reality we don’t know what covered the skin of advanced tyrannosaurs. More and more types of dinosaurs, and their relatives the flying pterosaurs (including Pterodactylus), are being found with feathers and hair-like structures on their skin, which would make them appear very different to the images in popular media. However, in some lineages such as sauropods, duckbilled dinosaurs and horned dinosaurs, feathers were lost, and scales reappeared. When it comes to tyrannosaurs, the picture is less clear. The most ancient tyrannosaurs were feathery in species big (Yutyrannus) and small (Dilong), but the presence of scales is known from patches in a handful of specimens of advanced tyrannosaurs, although these have only been reported in passing without detailed description[5]. Most specimens aren’t well enough preserved to get a full picture of their external appearance. If, however, tyrannosaur mummies are found one day, this would cast light on this aspect of their appearance.

8. What happened in the middle Jurassic period?
Unfortunately, we can only discover what the fossil record allows, and there are periods of time where there is little to work with. One of these is the Middle Jurassic, which was between 176 and 161 million years ago. This means there is a gap in our knowledge of tyrannosaur evolution, and it is difficult to determine how they developed from so called ‘basal’ forms to the more ‘advanced’ tyrannosaurs, or if these forms are even related. Hopefully, the discovery of more fossils from this interval will help fill in the gaps and give us a better picture of the history of tyrannosaurs.

9. Why did the alioramins have such long, low snouts?
Tyrannosaur workers have recently seen the addition of a new lineage, the alioramins[6]. The species in this group, Alioramus and Qianzhousaurus, have long and low snouts, in contrast to the short and deep snouts seen in, say, T. rex. T rex used its snout to deliver powerful bites to its prey, so while it is likely the longer snouts of the alioramins are an adaptation to a different kind of prey, its exact function is presently unknown.

10. Were there any tyrannosaurs in Siberia?
So far, fossils of several types of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs have been found in the far northeast of Russia, but no tyrannosaurs[7]. It is thought that dinosaurs dispersed across Northeastern Siberia and the north slope of Alaska, when moving between between Asia and Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous, so it is likely there are specimens here waiting to be found. Whatever tyrannosaur species are found in Siberia, they will be entirely new to science and they will certainly jostle the family tree.

This article was written by Dr Thomas Carr PhD, a vertebrate paleontologist who specializes in the growth and evolution of tyrannosaurs. He has named three new genera of tyrannosaurs, namely Appalachiosaurus (Alabama), Bistahieversor (New Mexico), and Teratophoneus (Utah), and he was part of the team who named Alioramus altai (Mongolia). Dr. Carr was the first to publish growth series of dinosaurs using cladistic analysis, a method usually used for recovering evolutionary relationships, for Tyrannosaurus rex and Albertosaurus sarcophagus. He collects dinosaur fossils with his students and volunteers each summer on federally regulated lands in southeastern Montana. Dr. Carr is an Associate Professor of Biology at Carthage College (Kenosha, WI), the Director of the Carthage Institute of Paleontology, and the Senior Scientific Adviser to the Dinosaur Discovery Museum (Kenosha, WI). You can visit Dr. Carr’s blog, Tyrannosauroidea Central, and follow his tweets at @Tyrannosaurcarr.

References
why don’t all references have links?

[1] Erickson, Gregory M et al. “Gigantism and comparative life-history parameters of tyrannosaurid dinosaurs.” Nature 430.7001 (2004): 772-775. doi:10.1038/nature02699
[2] Brusatte, S. L., Norell, M. A., Carr, T. D., Erickson, G. M., Hutchinson, J. R., Balanoff, A. M., Bever, G. S., Choiniere, J. N., Makovicky, P. J., and Xu, X. 2010. “Tyrannosaur paleobiology: New research on ancient exemplar organisms.” Science 329: 1481-1485.
[3] Loewen MA, Irmis RB, Sertich JJW, Currie PJ, Sampson SD (2013) “Tyrant Dinosaur Evolution Tracks the Rise and Fall of Late Cretaceous Oceans.” PLoS ONE 8(11): e79420. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079420
[4] Shuvalov, V. F. 2000. “The Cretaceous stratigraphy and paleobiogeography of Mongolia.” In Benton, M. J., Shichkin, M. A., Unwin, D. M., and Kurochkin, E. N. (eds.) The Age of Dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia, pp. 256-278. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
[5] Currie, P. J. 2004. “Theropods, Including Birds.” In Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B. (eds.) Dinosaur Provincial Park: A spectacular ancient ecosystem revealed; pp. 367-397. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
[6] Lu, J., Yi, L., Brusatte, S. L., Yang, L., Li, H., and Chen, L. 2014. “A new clade of Asian Late Cretaceous long-snouted tyrannosaurids.” Nature Communications 5, article number: 3788. doi:10.1038/ncomms4788
[7] Weishampel, D. B., Barrett, P. M., Coria, R. A., Le Loeuff, J., Xing, X., Xijin, Z., Sahni, A., Gomani, E. M. P., and Noto, C. “Dinosaur Distribution.” In Weishampel, D. B., Dodon, P., and Osmolska, H. (eds.) The Dinosauria Second Edition, pp. 517-606. University of California Press, Berkeley.
[8] Horner, John R.; Weishampel, David B.; Forster, Catherine A (2004). “Hadrosauridae”. In Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter; and Osmólska, Halszka (eds.). The Dinosauria (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 438–463. ISBN 0-520-24209-2.

Paleontology helping to restore Abaco, Bahamas biodiversity?


A new University of Florida study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, by Kristen Grace

From the University of Florida in the USA today:

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island and re-establishing , said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the now-extinct Albury’s Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum), once flourished. Today, there is no modern terrestrial ecosystem like that of ancient Abaco, with reptiles filling the roles of largest herbivore and carnivore.

In the study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, researchers embarked on the difficult task of reconstructing an ecosystem where few of the components still exist. To understand these missing pieces, scientists analyzed the types of carbon and nitrogen in well-preserved from the Cuban Crocodile and Albury’s Tortoise, which was unknown to scientists before its 2004 discovery in the Bahamas. The data reveal the crocodile and tortoise were both terrestrial, showing that reptiles “called the shots” on the island, Hastings said.

The terrestrial nature of these creatures is a great indicator of how biodiversity has changed in the Bahamas and what the ideal circumstances would be for these or similar species to return, said Florida Museum ornithology curator and study co-author David Steadman.

“On islands like Abaco that have always been dominated by reptiles, the flora and fauna are more vulnerable because they have evolved to lead a more laid back, island existence,” Steadman said. “Understanding this is important to designing better approaches to conservation on the island.”

Early paleontological sites in the Bahamas have yielded bones from numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals that no longer exist on the islands. James Mead, a vertebrate paleontologist with East Tennessee State University, said more research into the evolutionary history of native plants and animals on Abaco is needed as well as conservation programs based on paleontological research that aims to restore these species.

“The Cuban crocodile is living today in small numbers in Cuba, but this new research shows that it is not living to its fullest potential,” Mead said. “The crocodile could live more abundantly in a much wider habitat if we allowed it.”

Dinosaur with big nose discovery


This video is about hadrosaurs.

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Hadrosaur with huge nose discovered: Function of dinosaur’s unusual trait a mystery

September 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs — a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State University and Brigham Young University, lived in what is now Utah approximately 75 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period.

Rhinorex, which translates roughly into “King Nose,” was a plant-eater and a close relative of other Cretaceous hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus and Edmontosaurus. Hadrosaurs are usually identified by bony crests that extended from the skull, although Edmontosaurus doesn’t have such a hard crest (paleontologists have discovered that it had a fleshy crest). Rhinorex also lacks a crest on the top of its head; instead, this new dinosaur has a huge nose.

Terry Gates, a joint postdoctoral researcher with NC State and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and colleague Rodney Sheetz from the Brigham Young Museum of Paleontology, came across the fossil in storage at BYU. First excavated in the 1990s from Utah’s Neslen formation, Rhinorex had been studied primarily for its well-preserved skin impressions. When Gates and Sheetz reconstructed the skull, they realized that they had a new species.

“We had almost the entire skull, which was wonderful,” Gates says, “but the preparation was very difficult. It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in — it was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.”

Based on the recovered bones, Gates estimates that Rhinorex was about 30 feet long and weighed over 8,500 lbs. It lived in a swampy estuarial environment, about 50 miles from the coast. Rhinorex is the only complete hadrosaur fossil from the Neslen site, and it helps fill in some gaps about habitat segregation during the Late Cretaceous.

“We’ve found other hadrosaurs from the same time period but located about 200 miles farther south that are adapted to a different environment,” Gates says. “This discovery gives us a geographic snapshot of the Cretaceous, and helps us place contemporary species in their correct time and place. Rhinorex also helps us further fill in the hadrosaur family tree.”

When asked how Rhinorex may have benefitted from a large nose Gates said, “The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery. If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak. We are already sniffing out answers to these questions.”

The scientific dewscription of this new species is here.

See also here.

Carboniferous fossil discoveries in England


This video is called The Carboniferous Period.

From Wildlife Extra:

Yorkshire‘s hidden fossil haven reveals an exotic past

A derelict mining tip in Doncaster has given up its 310-million-year-old secrets after a host of new fossils – including some fossilised plants and creatures that may even be new to science – were found. One of the most exciting finds was that of a fossilised shark egg case, hinting at Yorkshire’s more exotic history.

Also among the fossils were some horseshoe crabs and previously unrecorded seed pods, all of which were found in preserved rocks that formed within the coal and shale deposits in what is one of the few fossil locations of its kind left in the UK.

The tip, located in Edlington, southwest of Doncaster, has been identified as being the only tip in the borough where fossils could still potentially be collected. All others in the area have been landscaped, or turned into parks, leaving any fossils that may be lying beneath inaccessible.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax, a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, described what the fossils indicate Yorkshire might have been like hundreds of millions of years ago: “The fossils unlock a window into a long distant past, buried deep beneath residents’ feet. They are proof that parts of Yorkshire were once a tropical water-logged forest, teeming with life that may have looked something similar to today’s Amazon delta, a mix of dense forest, lakes, swamps and lagoons.

“The shark egg case is particularly rare and significant, because it’s soft bodied and an unusual object to find fossilised. We hope that future organised collecting of the site may reveal further rare discoveries, such as dragonflies, beetles, spiders and further evidence of vertebrates. And who knows, maybe we will even find the actual shark.”

It is hoped that further fossil specimens unearthed at the site will continue to be found. Speaking from Doncaster Heritage Services, Peter Robinson said: “We hope this important discovery will encourage ex-miners from the borough to bring forward and donate fossil specimens from the now defunct collieries, which were collected whilst extracting coal from the pit face. We have heard many stories of some of the wonderful fossils that have been found.”

The fossils are being safely stored at Doncaster Museum and have been integrated into the museum’s fossil collection.

Spinosaurus bigger than Tyrannosaurus, new research


This video is called Bigger Than T. rex: Spinosaurus.

From the University of Chicago in the USA:

Massive hunter prowled water’s edge

UChicago collaboration rediscovers African dinosaur Spinosaurus, 9 feet longer than T. rex

By Claire Gwatkin Jones

Scientists have unveiled what appears to be the first truly semiaquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. New fossils of the massive Cretaceous-era predator reveal it adapted to life in the water some 95 million years ago, providing the most compelling evidence to date of a dinosaur able to live and hunt in an aquatic environment.

The fossils also indicate that Spinosaurus was the largest known predatory dinosaur to roam the Earth, measuring more than 9 feet longer than the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen. These findings, published online Sept. 11 on the Science Express website, also are featured in the October National Geographic magazine cover story.

An international research team—including paleontologists Nizar Ibrahim and Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago; Cristiano Dal Sasso and Simone Maganuco from the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy; and Samir Zouhri from the Université Hassan II Casablanca in Morocco—found that Spinosaurus developed a variety of previously unknown aquatic adaptations. The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing new fossils uncovered in the Moroccan Sahara and a partial Spinosaurus skull and other remains housed in museum collections around the world. They also used historical records and images from the first reported Spinosaurus discovery in Egypt more than 100 years ago. According to lead author Ibrahim, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, “Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space; it’s unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen.”

Aquatic adaptations of Spinosaurus

The aquatic adaptations of Spinosaurus differ significantly from earlier members of the spinosaurid family that lived on land but were known to eat fish. These adaptations include:

Small nostrils located in the middle of the skull. The small size and placement of the nostrils farther back on the skull allowed Spinosaurus to breathe when part of its head was in water.
Neurovascular openings at the end of the snout. Similar openings on crocodile and alligator snouts contain pressure receptors that enable them to sense movement in water. It’s likely these openings served a comparable function in Spinosaurus.
Giant, slanted teeth that interlocked at the front of the snout. The conical shape and location of the teeth were well-suited for catching fish.
A long neck and trunk that shifted the dinosaur’s center of mass forward. This made walking on two legs on land nearly impossible, but facilitated movement in water.
Powerful forelimbs with curved, blade-like claws. These claws were ideal for hooking or slicing slippery prey.
A small pelvis and short hind legs with muscular thighs. As in the earliest whales, these adaptations were for paddling in water and differ markedly from other predatory dinosaurs that used two legs to move on land.
Particularly dense bones lacking the marrow cavities typical to predatory dinosaurs. Similar adaptations, which enable buoyancy control, are seen in modern aquatic animals like king penguins.
Strong, long-boned feet and long, flat claws. Unlike other predators, Spinosaurus had feet similar to some shorebirds that stand on or move across soft surfaces rather than perch. In fact, Spinosaurus may have had webbed feet for walking on soft mud or paddling.
Loosely connected bones in the dinosaur’s tail. These bones enabled its tail to bend in a wave-like fashion, similar to tails that help propel some bony fish.
Enormous dorsal spines covered in skin that created a gigantic “sail” on the dinosaur’s back. The tall, thin, blade-shaped spines were anchored by muscles and composed of dense bone with few blood vessels. This suggests the sail was meant for display and not to trap heat or store fat. The sail would have been visible even when the animal entered the water.

Discovery more than century in making

More than a century ago, German paleontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach first discovered evidence of Spinosaurus in the Egyptian Sahara. Sadly, all of Stromer’s fossils were destroyed during the April 1944 Allied bombing of Munich, Germany. Ibrahim, however, was able to track down Stromer’s surviving notes, sketches and photos in archives and at the Stromer family castle in Bavaria to supplement Stromer’s surviving publications.

The new Spinosaurus fossils were discovered in the Moroccan Sahara along desert cliffs known as the Kem Kem beds. This area was once a large river system, stretching from present-day Morocco to Egypt. At the time, a variety of aquatic life populated the system, including large sharks, coelacanths, lungfish and crocodile-like creatures, along with giant flying reptiles and predatory dinosaurs.

The most important of the new fossils, a partial skeleton uncovered by a local fossil hunter, was spirited out of the country. As a result, critical information about the context of the find was seemingly lost, and locating the local fossil hunter in Morocco was nearly impossible. Remarked Ibrahim, “It was like searching for a needle in a desert.” After an exhaustive search, Ibrahim finally found the man and confirmed the site of his original discovery.

To unlock the mysteries of Spinosaurus, the team created a digital model of the skeleton with funding provided by the National Geographic Society. The researchers CT scanned all of the new fossils, which will be repatriated to Morocco, complementing them with digital recreations of Stromer’s specimens. Missing bones were modeled based on known elements of related dinosaurs. According to Maganuco, “We relied upon cutting-edge technology to examine, analyze and piece together a variety of fossils. For a project of this complexity, traditional methods wouldn’t have been nearly as accurate.”

The researchers then used the digital model to create an anatomically precise, life-size 3-D replica of the Spinosaurus skeleton. After it was mounted, the researchers measured Spinosaurus from head to tail, confirming their calculation that the new skeleton was longer than the largest documented Tyrannosaurus by more than 9 feet. According to Sereno, head of the University of Chicago’s Fossil Lab, “What surprised us even more than the dinosaur’s size were its unusual proportions. We see limb proportions like this in early whales, not predatory dinosaurs.”

Added Dal Sasso, “In the last two decades, several finds demonstrated that certain dinosaurs gave origins to birds. Spinosaurus represents an equally bizarre evolutionary process, revealing that predatory dinosaurs adapted to a semiaquatic life and invaded river systems in Cretaceous North Africa.”

Other authors of the Science paper are David Martill, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom; Matteo Fabbri, University of Bristol, United Kingdom; Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures; and Dawid Iurino, Sapienza Università di Roma in Italy. Important contributors to the making of the digital Spinosaurus include Tyler Keillor, Lauren Conroy and Erin Fitzgerald of the Fossil Lab at the University of Chicago.

Originally published on September 11, 2014.

Ancient mammals discovery in China


This video is called Ancient Mammals. Mammal evolution from the Triassic to now.

From Science News:

Fossils push back origins of modern mammals

Common ancestor evolved over 200 million years ago

by Meghan Rosen

2:39pm, September 10, 2014

Modern mammals’ ancestors may have emerged millions of years earlier than scientists suspected — around the time the first dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The fossilized remains of six little tree-dwelling animals push the lineage of today’s mammals back to the Late Triassic, more than 200 million years ago, researchers report September 10 in Nature.

“That’s really, really old,” says paleontologist Robert Asher of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the work. Scientists had thought that the common ancestor of those animals originated sometime in the Jurassic, he says. “This is very exciting stuff.”

Xianshou songae is the name of the newly discovered dinosaur age mammal.

Columbian mammoths’ red hair discovery


This video is called BBC: Columbian Mammoth, Death by Tar – Ice Age Death Trap.

From Smithsoniam.com in the USA:

Rare, Red Mammoth Hair Found on Californian Artichoke Farm

Columbian mammoths roamed Western North America thousands of years ago, and now we have a better idea of what they looked like

By Mary Beth Griggs

September 5, 2014

Columbian mammoths were redheads. Well, at least one Columbian mammoth was. Back in 2010, two brothers on an artichoke farm in California came across the bones of many prehistoric animals, including the remains of a 46-year-old mammoth with a small tuft of its hair still intact.

Archaeologist Mark Hylkema spoke to Western Digs about the find.

“What was particularly significant is that the hair was red,” Hylkema said. “It was the same color of my golden retriever.” “We can envision cattle on the landscape today,” he added. “Picture herds of red-colored mammoths.”

Hair from other mammoth species has been recovered, particularly from wooly mammoth remains, which have been found preserved in ice (also with a reddish-hued coat in some cases). But finding the hair of a Columbian Mammoth is a very rare occurrence, as they tended to live in more temperate climates, which don’t tend to preserve hair or tissue as well as more icy climates. A fact sheet about the Columbian mammoth published just a few years ago by the San Diego Zoo lists its pelage (fur) as unknown, because there just weren’t enough samples of hair to figure out what it would have looked like. Now, with this find, we have a better idea.

Researchers have recovered about 40 percent of the mammoth and many other creatures from the site, but many of the remains weren’t in good condition, unlike the remains found at the La Brea Tar Pits. Excavation of the site has stopped, but researchers are still working on the remains already recovered, and the mammoth discovery has obviously left an impression on the farmers, who began selling “Mammoth” brand artichokes after the big find.