[MGSA-L] Canadian Camels
june.samaras at gmail.com
Wed Mar 6 12:17:53 PST 2013
Canada’s North, Home to Bears, and Once, Camels
By IAN AUSTEN
Published: March 5, 2013
OTTAWA — Though camels are usually associated with the searing heat of
the desert, a group of scientists reported on Tuesday that they had
found fossilized remains of a giant camel, with a shoulder height of
perhaps nine feet, in Canada’s frigid high Arctic.
“It’s a surprise when you first hear it,” said Natalia Rybczynski, a
paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, who
discovered the bone fragments in 2006. “But the Arctic in the winter
was like a desert at that time.”
Dr. Rybczynski said that though scientists have long believed that
camels originated in North America and then spread throughout the
world, the remains were found about 750 miles north of what was
previously the northernmost known camel fossil, a giant found in
Canada’s Yukon Territory in 1913.
“It’s just kind of stunning that it’s more than 1,000 kilometers
away,” said Dr. Rybczynski, the lead author of a paper about the camel
published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
She had accompanied a group of scientists to Ellesmere Island, which
is in the Nunavut territory, who were studying the climate history of
the region. At the time when the oversized camel lived, about 3.5
million years ago, the island was considerably warmer and covered by
boreal forest. Still, it had unusually severe winters that lasted
about six months, Dr. Rybczynski said.
Features that enabled the ancient camel to survive those cold winters,
like broad feet and its signature hump of fat, proved equally useful
as the species went to desert regions, she said.
“It’s a really nice example of pre-adaptability,” Dr. Rybczynski said.
The camel’s remains, 30 pieces that make up a tibia, were found near
an area where a number of fossils of small forest mammals have been
previously discovered. Dr. Rybczynski acknowledged, however, that she
initially had no idea what she retrieved and was about to study for
the next six years.
“It was a very buggy year in 2006,” she said. “Because there were a
lot of mosquitoes I was wearing a bug net over my head and couldn’t
tell much of anything.”
A version of this article appeared in print on March 6, 2013, on page
A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Canada’s North, Home to
Bears, And Once, Camels.
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