ggiant rhinos are among the largest mammals to ever walk on this great Earth, and a Newly discovered species that lived in northwest China around 25 million years ago reveal just how magnificent these creatures were.
Gigantism is a biological trait commonly associated with dinosaurs, but natural selection has produced some quite huge mammals too. In fact, the largest animal of all time, the blue whale, is a mammal. With regard to large land mammals, Steppe mammoths were quite big, just like giant sloths on the ground, but the giant rhinos were probably the biggest.
Several genera of giant rhinos are known, among which Paraceratherium. These extinct hornless rhinos lived primarily in Asia, with fossils scattered throughout China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. The evolutionary history of the giant rhinos is a bit vague, however, and paleontologists have struggled to discern their exact proportions due to an abundance of incomplete fossils. What is clear, however, is that these mammals were very large.
This group can now claim a new member, Paraceratherium linxiaense, as shown in a study published today in Communications Biology. Paleontologist Tao Deng, of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, directed the research.
The fossilized bones of this species were extracted from the Linxia Basin in the northwestern province of Gansu in China. Partial remains of two individuals were recovered, namely a skull, mandible and associated atlas (first cervical vertebra in the spine) from one specimen, and an axis and two thoracic vertebrae from another individual. The fossils were found in Late Oligocene deposits dated 26.5 million years ago.
One of the fossils is a “A fantastically well preserved skull with jaws and neck vertebrae – so well preserved that it tells you it was preserved and buried quickly,” explained Lawrence Flynn, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University and co-author of the study, in an email. “It provides in-depth anatomical information to define a new species distinct from other closely related giant rhinos.”
Analysis of these fossils took place from December 2016 to February 2017. The team performed laser scans of the specimens to build a 3D digital model, which allowed them to characterize the animals and compare them to other rhinos. giants.
The evidence pointed to an entirely new species. Compared to others Paraceratherium, this animal presented a thin skull, a short nose trunk, a long neck and a deeper nasal cavity. This giant rhino “didn’t have a horn,” Deng said in an email. “Its the small first upper incisors and the deep nasal notch indicate a longer prehensile trunk of the nose, similar to that of the tapir ‘, while its large size, as evidenced by its large 3.8 feet long (1.14 meter) head, distinguishes it from other species of Paraceratherium, he added.
Extrapolating from the partial remains, Deng estimates a weight of 24 tons, “similar to the total weight of the four largest individuals of the modern African elephant,” he said. P. linxiaense was 16.4 feet (5 meters) at shoulder level and his body was 26.25 feet (8 meters) long.
The giant rhino’s long legs were good for running, Deng said, and his head could reach a height of 23 feet (7 meters), allowing him to “roam the leaves of the treetops”. The trunk of the giant rhino’s prehensile nose would have been “extremely useful for wrapping around branches while they plucked leaves with their front teeth.” Deng explained. Its tusk-shaped incisors were probably used to break twigs, bark, and bend the tallest branches, he added. Like the others Paraceratherium, this giant rhino lived in woodland forests.
Interesting way, P. linxiaense looks like giant rhinos that once lived in what is now Pakistan. The new research suggests that giant rhinos traveled from northwest China through the Tibetan region, which led them to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. This is fascinating both evolutionarily and geologically, as it suggests that the Tibetan region “probably hosted areas of low elevation”, perhaps within 2,000 meters (6,550 feet) for the Oligocene, “and the giant rhino line could have dispersed freely. along the eastern coast of the [ancient] Tethys Ocean and maybe across some lowlands in that region, ”the paleontologists wrote in the study.
Although they may look a bit alike, modern rhinos are in fact do not descend from Paraceratherium or other giant rhinos. Instead of, both groups can claim a common ancestor who lived around 50 million years ago.
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