If they lived, these creatures walked on long legs, had really wide feet, a huge hump on their backs, and could live to be 80 years old. Do they sound familiar? If you guessed camel, you’d be right, but these were no ordinary camels – they were giants of the Pliocene age.
Standing 29% taller than the average 7 foot camel today, they roamed the area now known as Canada’s High Arctic.
Scientists from the Canadian Museum of Nature spent three summers on Ellsmere Island in the arctic where they found and collected the huge leg bones of these giant camels, most probably relatives of the previously known Paracamelus, or the Yukon giant camel.
Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, said, “This is an important discovery because it provides the first evidence of camels living in the High Arctic region. It extends the previous range of camels in North America northward by about 1,200 km, and suggests that the lineage that gave rise to modern camels may have been originally adapted to living in an Arctic forest environment.”
She adds, “ The first time I picked up a piece [of bone], I thought that it might be wood. It was only back at the field camp that I was able to ascertain it was not only bone, but also from a fossil mammal larger than anything we had seen so far from the deposits.” In all, she and team collected 30 bone fragments.
What Bones Did They Find?
They then made digital files of each piece and began the process of trying to piece them together. Eventually they realized they had a part of a large tibia, the bone in the lower legs of mammals. But the size of this tibia proved to be very large, larger than any other bones found in the area.
Using a new method of identifying bone called “collagen fingerprinting”, they extracted tiny bits of collagen from the fossils. Collagen is the dominant protein found in bone. They then developed a “collagen profile” for these fossils and compared them to those of other modern mammals and the profile from the Yukon giant camel.
The new collagen profile from the newly found bones most closely resembled that of modern camels. From there they were able to conclude that these new bones belonged to a camel, most likely descendants of Paracamelus.
Dr. Rybczynski added, “We now have a new fossil record to better understand camel evolution, since our research shows that the Paracamelus lineage inhabited northern North America for millions of years, and the simplest explanation for this pattern would be that Paracamelus originated there. So perhaps some specializations seen in modern camels, such as their wide flat feet, large eyes and humps for fat may be adaptations derived from living in a polar environment.”
Why Cryptozoology Fans Should Care
Discoveries like this excite me because they show some of these huge and ancient creatures could still be living today in a much-evolved but still similar form. My mind flew to Gigantopithicus – the huge ape man for whom scientists have several lower jaws. I’m sure that one day we will be certain that that animal’s descendants are still roaming the deep woods and valleys all around the world.
Til the next time!