Wooly Rhinos and World Temperatures
The woolly rhinoceros is an extinct species of rhinoceros that was common throughout Europe and northern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch and survived the last glacial period. A study, led by Professor Danielle Schreve from Royal Holloway, looked at an exceptionally well preserved skeleton discovered in Staffordshire in 2002. The team also studied the other remains found with it — including a partial skull of another rhino, nicknamed Howard — to gather evidence on what the environment would have been like at the time. These woolly rhinoceros skeletons has enabled scientists to calculate the average temperature of Britain 42, 000 years ago.
This new paper reports the discovery of a partial skeleton of a woolly rhinoceros and associated fauna from a low Pleistocene terrace of the River Tame in Staffordshire, UK. For the first time, comparative calculations of palaeotemperatures have been made on the same samples, suggesting a mean July temperature of 8—11 degrees C and a mean December temperature of between 22 and 16 degrees C. Radiocarbon age estimates on skeletal material, supported by optically stimulated luminescence ages from surrounding sediments, indicate that the rhino lived around 42,000 years ago.
"This is one of the most significant fossil finds in the last 100 years of a large mammal," explains Schreve. "It's an iconic specimen so it's important to date it, and it correlates well with other specimens from this time in mainland Europe. So we can tell conditions at this time were very favourable for this species in Britain."
"A range of different palaeobiological proxies were preserved with the rhino, like pollen, leaves, seeds and so on. But we also found the remains of beetles and non-biting midges." Schreve continues, "The animals are particularly important as they're very sensitive to changes in climate, so they can give us a direct insight into prevailing temperatures at the time."
The external appearance of woolly rhinos is known from mummified individuals from Siberia as well as cave paintings. An adult woolly rhinoceros was typically around 10 to 12.5 feet in length, with an estimated weight of around 6,000—7,000 lb. The woolly rhinoceros could grow to be 6.6 feet tall;the body size was thus comparable, or slightly larger than, the extant White rhinoceros. Two horns on the skull were made of keratin, the anterior horn being 24 in in length, with a smaller horn between its eyes. It had thick, long fur, small ears, short, thick legs, and a stocky body. Cave paintings suggest a wide dark band between the front and hind legs, but the feature is not universal, and identification of pictured rhinoceroses as woolly rhinoceros is uncertain.
During the Late Pleistocene the environment of the northern territories of Eurasia, ranging from Western Europe to Alaska, was generally open, tending toward steppic. It is known as the Mammoth Steppe, a biotope remarkable for its unusual combination of mammal species when compared to the present-day distribution. This is where the Rhino lived.
For further information see Rhino Article.
Rhino image via Wikipedia.