STL Science Center

STL Science Center

31 October 2011

One video

Camelops has the problem that Castoroides had on Saturday when we were examining illustrations. The only segment of video for this double animal week comes from Discovery Channel's documentary Prehistoric: New York. A three minute segment, that someone tried to add a funny clip to the end of in our case here, about Castoroides and its general hang outs in Old Old New York:

30 October 2011

Shorts for Kids

Today is a very short entry because there just isn't much out there in the way of coloring and or links for these two animals geared toward children. It's just the sad reality of not being a hugely popular extinct animal. First I'll lay out the coloring pages:
I have no idea why Camelops has dinosaur stripes.
I'm sideways, print me carefully!
In the links for education section of the kids' content, I'm very sorry to say the selection is actually even less than the coloring. There is all of one quality link between the two animals. It is from an Australian site that I rarely, but sometimes have to, use. The site isn't bad, there are just usually more options. The information on it is not that great either, unfortunately.

29 October 2011

Images of Camelops

I ran into an interesting lack of illustrations of Castoroides when looking for illustrations today. It could be because it's just a giant beaver and no one is that impressed. This is certainly a possibility. However, after a scouring of the internet, I decided we only needed one image of a giant beaver today and that image is this one right here:
Castoroides, 'nuff said

So, moving along to Camelops now in the picture department. Camelops is a somewhat much debated animal. I say "somewhat much" in that manner because those that do talk about Camelops debate the validity of the reconstructions of it as a living animal. There are many reasons for this including living species being used as examples and geography; these tend to take precedent in discussions over what Camelops would have looked like. The most generic representations is this:

 Why the North American continent suddenly looks like Egypt I cannot say, however, the Smilodon and the Camelops in the painting look quite happy to be doing their predator-prey thing in an arid and desert-like landscape. This scene could perhaps be in an area that is now quite desert-like in our time such as the Mojave and would, that way, be fairly believable. Should that be the case, though, the Camelops in that painting and the Camelops to the left here, which look quite similar, would most likely be the same species. This Camelops is Camelops hesternus and is featured in a montage of herbivores featuring heavily in the still being unearthed contents of the La Brea Tar Pits. Notice how she looks like any camel we see in a picture of Arabia though with very little representation of a hump. This is a point that many of the Camelops aficionados have come to agree upon willingly.

The case is stated that the Camelops and its closest kin are the original camelids (sounds like a bad tupperware brand) and that the camelid family began in and around what would now be the general area of Arizona-New Mexico-California-Old Mexico before spreading north and west over the Bering Land Bridge into Asia and eventually Africa and down into South America. Therefore, the lack of a fatty hump in the Camelops genus makes sense as the fatty hump was an evolutionary adaptation of Asian-African (Dromedary having one hump, Bactrian camels having two humps) camelids that were adapting to low water levels in their newer habitats and compensating through bodily engineering. What also makes sense, therefore, is that the Camelops could have possibly had ears and faces which looked like an alpaca's face and ears much more than the Dromedary and Bactrian camels.

Camel genetics are actually quite intricate. The now extinct Syrian Camel, the living Bactrian, and Dromedary camels all belong in the Camelini tribe of the Camelinae subfamily of the family Camelidae (camel camel camel, for extra confusion for you readers!) whereas the Llama and Gaunaco of the genus lama and the Vicuña and Alpaca of the genus Vicugna all belong in the Lamini tribe of Camelinae of Camelidae. Camelops is of the tribe Camelopini of the family Camelidae, but has 6 species and may very well be the father and mother of all living camel species. I hope this all makes sense. Therefore, it would make sense that the general skeletal construction of Camelops is quite similar to all living species of Camelid. Also, then, the physical features of Camelops could look quite similar to any of the species and therefore we may ahve seen eyes, faces, ears, coloration, humps or lack of humps in Camelops. Dan Reed, who has done a great service to us in the last month with his wonderful depictions of Pleistocene mammals, has done another good work with Camelops, but I shall let his illustration do the talking:
©Daniel Reed

28 October 2011


I had contemplated going back to dinosaurs this week until the Facebook voting made me change my mind. At certain times I hold a vote instead of making the decision myself, and whatever the circumstances, this past week there was a lot of positive participation. Two animals tied last week for second place and, for a moment, it almost could have been a three way tie. In thinking about the reader's interests and the spirit of fun, because October isn't really over, I've decided to do something I haven't done in the little over a year that I have been working on this "project." This week the subject of discussion will be two animals instead of one.
©Kelly Taylor

Animal number one is Castoroides. The genus Castoroides has two species, C. leiseyorum and C. ohioensis. Castoroides is a giant beaver. The species are split into a North and a South variant of the genus. Growing to be 8 feet in length this beaver was huge for a rodent! The beavers lived from roughly 1.8 million years ago to approximately 11,000 years ago from Canada down to Florida. The first fossils were found in Ohio in 1837 and 1995 in Florida for each species.

The second animal this week is the North American Giant Camel, or the Camelops genus. Its name means "camel face" in Greek, not very original, and six species have been identified in North America. The most prominently researched, not necessarily most prominently found, seems to be Camelops hesternus. Even though it was a giant camel, it has bee suggested that Camelops may have been more like its South American descendants and cousins and lacked the hump of fat seen in modern camels while at the same time having a coat of multiple colors. In recent years the Arizona desert has yielded some good specimens of Camelops. Camelops lived approximately 3.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago where it died off with many other megafauna during the rise of the Clovis hunting culture.

27 October 2011

Fame and the Rhino

Being a Rhinoceros grants some small amount of fame to the Woolly Rhinoceros. The other thing that helps are news reports about stolen preserved rhinos. Then we have our favorite television documentaries from the BBC, mainly as there was not much put into motion on behalf of American television which had anything to do with these rhinos since I can remember. Check back to Monday if you want to see the BBC Woolly Rhino in action. The other sources for pop culture, books and gaming entertainment, come through in a rather nice way as well in helping to show the culture some information about the Woolly Rhinoceros. As usual, the crafty creators in Spore have been up to their tricks and I have two Spore critters to show that I have found videos of. Enjoy:
Now, of course, there was also Zoo Tycoon's Woolly Rhino, which came before Spore and is very well modeled after the living rhino species.

26 October 2011

Finding the Woolly Rhinoceros

The Woolly Rhinoceros, like many other Pleistocene mammals, was not so much "discovered" as unearthed after years of searching. Cave paintings from around Eurasia had detailed Woolly Rhinos as much as they had any other mammal and scientists, even those skeptical due to its hairy appearance in cave paintings when only the smooth skinned cousins were living around the globe, knew of the evidence that suggested that there were animals of this nature somewhere in the world's history whether they were holding proof or not. However, considering the mentality of scientists, that need for hard proof of something to truly believe, it wouldn't be long before someone went searching amongst the rumors of remains and preserved corpses found throughout the northern half of Eurasia.

She has no name

The first evidence aside from the cave drawings was found in a Polish tar pit. The pit, located in Starunia, Poland, yielded a specimen of Woolly Rhino that was almost flawless. The fact that it was only missing its hair and hooves made the find a fantastic advancement in the study of Woolly Rhinos and, the fact that the first specimen ever found by modern scientists was a whole specimen and not just bones, made an extremely profound impact on the science of paleontology as well. The specimen was an adult female rhino which is now on display in Poland's Academy of Sciences. Since that rhino was found many more skeletons and preserved specimens have been found throughout Eurasia including the Tibetan specimen mentioned earlier in the week.

25 October 2011

The Research I Was Looking For.

Woolly Rhinoceroses have been researched heavily and, thanks to the Rhino Resource Center, most all of that research has been filed and compiled online. This is a great thing to have available. Containing over 13,000 pdf files from books and journals, the sheer amount of available information on all types of rhinos is fantastic. This week I plucked three gems from the vault to share with you readers.

The first article I found I am very, very excited about. As anyone and everyone knows, one of my main goals in studying paleontology aside from studying the functional morphology of animals is finding the answers to the question "where did they come from?" To that end I present to my readers an article titled Ancient DNA analysis reveals woolly rhino evolutionary relationships. Now, this article explores, fairly well, how analyzing the DNA of ancient creatures has revealed the path of evolution of many different species of rhino as they diverged evolutionarily.

The second article, about immigration of the Woolly Rhino into Europe for the first time, chronicles and follows the path of evidence that leads from Asia to Europe. While not as amazing as using DNA to track evolution, the importance of the immigration of rhinos into Europe is quite important for the predators and other herbivores of the region. The article doesn't mention the fact that a large tank of eating prowess may have potentially forced another animal out of its niche and, perhaps, into extinction.

The final article is actually a part of a book which discusses "new" reconstructions of Woolly Rhinos. I only included this page because it relates to how we now see Woolly Rhinos.

24 October 2011

In the Movies

Woolly Rhinoceroses have been in a few documentaries as at least small segments. One of the best moments for the Woolly Rhino on film came as a member of the menagerie presented in the Woolly Mammoth centered episode of Walking with Beasts from the BBC. In this segment the quietly and calmly grazing Woolly Rhino is startled by a Neanderthal out gathering wood for a fire. Danger ensues of course:

Another documentary, a pseudo-documentary really, Prehistoric Park, aired an episode where Nigel Marven goes back in time to wander about during one of the ice ages of the past. He comes across many of the animals we have highlighted this month, one of which is a type of woolly rhinoceros called Elasmotherium (E. caucasicum). Why he would save a Woolly Mammoth, an animal that has had its DNA sequenced, I cannot really say, but it does feature a segment with the Elasmotherium. While not a Woolly Rhinoceros, it was a close cousin living at the same time and I think it is interesting enough to share under this week's videos of the Woolly Rhinoceros.
Strangely, in 2007 a very well preserved Woolly Rhino was found and then stolen from the storage facility where it was being kept. I thought it would be an interesting addition to show the news story related to the theft, but it's not really informative about the rhino itself.

23 October 2011

Woolly Rhinoceros- Kid Edition

Happy Sunday kiddos!

The Woolly Rhinoceros, pictured at right without any hair (you add it on, that's part of the fun of coloring it today!), was a slightly larger than the largest living species at the moment species of rhino from Earth's past. While it was furry, it was not cuddly. Well, this one was, but none of the others were, trust me on this one! Anyhow, the Woolly Rhino was a big hairy herbivore that may have used his biggest horn above his nose, which could be up to three feet long, which might even be taller than some of you kids out there, to brush aside snow in the tundra and glacial environments in which they lived to get down to the grass and small vegetation that lay under the snow. You can read more facts like these at these two pages about the Woolly Rhino; one is for kids and the other is a page from a website dedicated to just Rhinoceroses around the world.

The last bit of information I want to share with the kiddos today before they go exploring the Woolly Rhino themselves is that scientists have just recently discovered what they think is the oldest ever fossil of Woolly Rhinoceroses (I think I just like writing Rhinoceroses today!). The fossil was dug up in the country of Tibet which is in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. Coincidentally, it is very difficult to find an accurate map of Tibet to share with you children today because China says Tibet belongs to them and Tibet says "Go away China and leave us alone" all the time, but here is what turns up in Google Maps if you look up Tibet. Getting back to our subject though, the oldest fossil was found in Tibet with an ancient Snow Leopard and an ancient horse as well. The fossil is reportedly 3.6 million years old which means that the Woolly Rhino separated from its cousins through evolution almost 4 million years ago and started growing that wonderfully thick and hairy coat for winter time!

22 October 2011

Images of a Rhino

©Charles R. Knight
Being a rhinoceros, the Woolly Rhinoceros is pretty much always drawn the same way whether by pencil, painted, computer, or anything else that one can think of. Charles Knight is always a good place to start with illustrations though. Even though his dinosaurs are clearly dated and now anatomically defunct, he always had good illustrations for his time. Now, being a rhino, that makes the Woolly Rhino kind of hard to have anatomically incorrect, so we know that the Knight illustrations of this creature more than likely will not meet the same fate at all. Even in black and white this rhino is powerful, and furry, of course, and we can get an idea as to the power and size of the Woolly Rhinoceros. Imagine an animal we think of as a nearly hairless African animal growing a shaggy coat and roaming through the arctic. It's pretty amazing.

©Mauricio Anton
Moving to a slightly warmer location for the subject of this illustration, you can see the features of the Woolly Rhino which, in this illustration at least, are still recognizable in the rhinos we know today. The horns of Woolly Rhinos, just like their modern cousins, are made of hardened keratin. Their small eyes and small ears, like modern rhinos, most likely would have meant that the animals relied on odor of predators and, most likely, other megafauna to alert them to predators. The immense size of the rhinos would have allowed them, as it allows modern animals, to live solitary lifestyles without the benefits of a herd. Considering the impact living rhinos are capable of making on animals attempting to hunt or startle them in our time, the living Woolly Rhinoceros probably had few if any natural predators after infancy and before old age.

In the event of an attack, I imagine more often than not that the Woolly Rhinoceros came out of the attack looking like this one to the right looks, though probably not often standing in high grasses given that they lived mainly on the tundra and glacial plains. Despite this tiny discrepancy, the hide of the rhino was probably quite thick and tough under the most likely, because it wasn't a cat after all, thick matted hair that covered the rhino's body. The other side of what this image could represent here may be a spring shedding. I like the idea that this rhino is a tough survivor though. My imagination appreciates the exercise of picturing a European cave bear or cave lion trying to attack this giant tank of an animal.

21 October 2011

One Horn

Coelodonta antiquitatis is just another furry animal roaming the landscape during the late Pleistocene in Eurasia. Notably found in Siberia and other cold regions, sometimes mummified as Woolly Mammoths were also found in the past, the Woolly Rhinoceros has always been an intriguing animal. Much like the idea of giant lions in America and Canada, the idea of a larger, furrier rhinoceros outside of Africa is a fascinating idea. Originating in the general area of the Tibetan Plateau, which is mostly inside China, around 3.6 million years ago, the Woolly Rhinoceros most likely split away from the Indian Rhinoceros family sometime around that same time in history with the Indian Rhinoceros and other southern rhinos (Javan, Sumatran) going fur-less in the warmer southern climes. Interestingly, Wooly Rhinos, like the Black and White African species and the Sumatran Rhinos, have two horns while the Indian and Javan Rhinos have only one horn.

The nasal horn of the Woolly Rhinoceros was by far the largest horn in the entire rhino family (Rhinocerotidae). The smaller horn on the frontal-parietal boundary area is about the size of most Black Rhinos nasal horns. At approximately two meters tall and up to fourteen meters long, the Woolly Rhinoceros was only slightly larger than the Indian Rhino (also known as the Great One Horned Rhino). Cave paintings found from many different ages of history show the size of this rhino and most show what appears to be dark bands of color between the front and back legs, though some of the paintings have been questioned in terms of the exact species of rhino being depicted as some do not seem especially woolly. This could, however, be a variation in the coat that was being accounted for, though Woolly Rhinoceroses tended to keep their movement within the expanding and contracting tundra of the Pleistocene. 

All this talk about glaciers makes me think of Bob Dylan:

20 October 2011

Culture and Bears

In a way it is really sad that Arctodus has not had any toys created in its imagine because a long legged teddy bear is currently very realistic. Of course it would look a little strange, but surely if a panda stuffed animal exists there could be another ridiculous looking bear stuffed animal out on the market; can you tell I'm not a fan of pandas? It could be a giant teddy bear even! One of those stuffed animals a child can use as a blanket and a pillow at the same time because it's so enormous. However, the only popular culture reference we can find at this time is that of Jurassic Fight Club, documentaries, and professional magazine articles; no, not even children's books exist. Today I'm just going to reference the actual "fight scene" from that documentary.

19 October 2011


Once again we have an animal that only died out about 11,000 years ago and thus begs the question: Who actually "found" the first evidence of the animal? Surely the first evidence was most likely found in some sort of Native American art and, had the native peoples kept records in North America 11,000 years ago we would already know long before we found a fossil all sorts of things about this animal such as its diet and territorial habits. Unfortunately, they did not keep very good written documents 11,000 years ago and we therefore have only artistic representations of bears and fossil evidence to go on. The fact that the fossils have been found in so many different locations across the continent of North America only adds to how much we can glean from studying the fossils.

No one single man is truly "responsible" for the discovery and findings of Arctodus remains and research on account of how many skeletons and partial skeletons have been unearthed. Per Christiansen is, at the moment, one of the more referenced authors in current articles on Arctodus and can therefore, on account of the papers he has written, be looked to as one of the more knowledgeable researchers of Arctodus during our time. The earliest references I have found to a discovery point vaguely at a Captain Bowman of North Carolina during the American Revolution and sadly most of these references note that he died before the discovery of the tooth was widely published; the war obviously taking precedent over the science. Captain Bowman's death during the war certainly did not help him follow up his find. It may remain a mystery forever, who initially discovered the fossils that set Arctodus up for "discovery" but at least it has been found and can now be discussed.

18 October 2011

Two Good Papers

I found two papers that I read over the weekend that were quite good and that I decided I would share this week. There are many more, but I decided that these two were enough. The first paper is authored by Per Christiansen of ZMUC in Denmark. This paper focuses on the sizes of two bears, Arctodus simus and Ursus spelaeus. Cave bears aside, the paper discusses in great detail the methods of measuring out the bodies of these two animals and makes well founded theories on diet based on both size of the body and the cranial structure. In terms of straightforward discussion about the size and dimensions of Arctodus there are few other current papers that are this detailed.

The second paper, which I cannot link unfortunately and allow everyone a full read as it is an article in the JVP, was authored by Borja Figuerido and three others from the Universidad de Malaga. The article is found at this address and if you can read it it is an interesting read. If you cannot, then allow me to summarize briefly. This article is aimed at ridding the Arctodus of myths popularly attributed to it through various means such as speculation and exaggerated research. Some of the myths that are reversed or, at the very least, addressed and confronted are the idea that Short-faced Bears were hypercarnivores capable of crushing bones with their bites, the abilities of these bears to chase down horses in full flight, the possibility that Arctodus was a specific niche scavenger, and that the term "short-faced" is not actually an accurate description of the bear. Personally, I like their conclusion, not describing every method and bit of research in the paper here, that Arctodus was an enormous omnivorous bear that adapted to its surroundings and lived off that ability to adapt its diet and lifestyle.

17 October 2011

Monday Viewings

There are a few, thankfully more than children's resources, movies and documentaries that use Arctodus as a subject. National Geographic produced a series of specials which compared the lives of Arctodus, Smilodon, and Dire Wolves in an attempt to discover why each of the predators went extinct. The series is not, therefore, entirely about Arctodus, however, it does have quite a bit of good information about the bears in the individual episode about Arctodus. Check out the episode online:

Jurassic Fight Club I mentioned yesterday, so for a clip from that show see Sunday's entry. Discovery, though, had another show called Prehistoric: New York which also featured the Short-Faced Bears. The bear shown in this episode, the clip below, is colored grey all over and almost has a regular bear's face. Additionally, the bear is said to have the same agility as a cat, which is highly debatable and not entirely agreed upon by scientists. Unfortunately Discovery is not a big fan of embedding video, and only a link can be shared to the video here.

16 October 2011

Arctodus the Teddy Bear

As a bear one would imagine that an animal like Arctodus, as fearsome as we have been told it was, though this sentiment is being mulled over, debated, and in some places changed entirely, would have loads of toys and or stuffed animals based on it much like the Woolly Mammoth did. However, this is very far from the truth. Actually, Arctodus doesn't have a single child related link on any of the usual sites we visit on Sundays. No toys or stuffed animals either. There are not even coloring pages! No children's books either! The best thing you can do if you have a child that wants to learn more about and see more of Arctodus is to watch the one or two documentaries that exist. One of the more entertaining ones that you will find for anyone, kids or adults, is going to be Jurassic Fight Club. While filled with a good amount of conjecture alongside the science, the children will enjoy it.

15 October 2011

Long Day- Evening Update

A wonderful muscle and skeleton study.
Arctodus is thought to be the largest terrestrial mammalian carnivore to have ever existed. Despite the fact that the bear was, like modern bears, most likely an omnivore and not a strict carnivore, the idea has merit. The Arctodus genus was a very large genus with noticeably feline features in the face and limb proportions as noted by past research which will be discussed in the near future. Arctodus was, however, more of an ambush predator using its size and strength than it was a sprinter. The bear could take down bison for sure with its power, as shown to the side here.

The bear was large, about five feet and some inches, depending on the animal, at the shoulders. Easily, the bear could stand up on two feet to be over ten feet tall. Short-faced bears  had a lot of power, though not as much as has been believed. Their long legs, for instance, while looking as though they could cover copious amounts of ground in single bounds were probably more suited to just that and not to the long distance running often thought of in coordination with long striding animals. Many different versions of the diet of this bear have been thought up over the years including scavenging and herbivorous traits that augment the carnivorous traits that surely existed.

14 October 2011

The Arc Told Us

©Daniel Reed
Minus the "L" that's almost a clever joke for this coming week. This week, the third week of Cenozoic mammals month, our discussions will concern the ursine denizens of the North American Ice Ages. Moving about the continent from about 3 million years ago to approximately 11,000 years ago, Arctodus, more commonly referred to as Short Faced Bears, were truly enormous. There are two species in the genus Arctodus. These species are Arctodus simus and Arctodus pristinus. Bears existed in South America and Europe as well at this time, but were of different genera than Arctodus such as Arctotherium and Plionarctos. Arctodus was found solely in North America and had become quite widespread by the Kansan age; approximately 800,000 years ago.

What Arctodus did as a genus prior to that time, since it has been noted to have diverged from ancestors 3 million years ago, is not well documented. Of the two species, A. simus lived in the northern half of the continent and some of the south with fossils being found in Alaska, California, and Mississippi while A. pristinus diverged in evolution to adapt to life in the southern part of the continent including Texas and even Mexico with rather large concentrations found in Florida.

13 October 2011

Connected to the Culture

Elephants, Mastodons, Mammoths; all animals that we can readily recognize. Collective memory? Association with existing species? What is it exactly that makes it so easy for anyone, whether science lover or hater, to identify these types of animals? It certainly is not drilled into our heads at school; paleontology as a science is barely touched upon in today's school partly in fear of sparking debates about evolution I am sure. However, those that help to build culture (television producers, movie makers, writers, etc.) the most turn to mammoths sometimes when they can't think of anything else I believe. Take Manny from Ice Age for instance; main character because mammoths are so highly recognizable. He's even given a love story in this computer generated tale. In case you've forgotten about Ice Age and Manny, take a gander here:

Older BBC shows exist too that featured mammoths:

On to the cute and cuddly influence of mammoths on the world right? I won't even describe it, just check it out:

12 October 2011

Discovery of Mammoths?

Can an animal that existed in cooperation, at times, and at odds, the other times, with human beings be truly "discovered"? Smilodon had a discovery story. Mammoths, however, don't have a true discovery story. This is partly due to the fact that even the first cave paintings discovered contained images of mammoths. Their relation to existing elephants made the discovery of a hairy elephant less amazing and frightening than some other extinct animals. However, the Siberian natives have been finding mammoth remains for centuries and trading the ivory tusks. The story goes that the belief surrounding the remains was told of a giant mole creature which died when reaching the surface, thus leaving bones and ivory scattered on the ground. The word mammoth comes from a native Siberian word.

Europeans began researching mammoths in 1728 with Hans Sloane leading the way; the first frozen mammoth to be studied in Europe was found at the same time by the German Daniel Messerschmidt. Sloane had remains brought from Siberia and upon publishing his work is noted as being the first scientist to recognize that the mammoth was some sort of elephant and not a giant or underground behemoth. Unfortunately, despite his discovery, Sloane explained the presence of an elephant in Siberia by stating that Siberia had once been tropical and the elephants had died during the great flood discussed in the bible.

Georges Cuvier was the next scientist to make great headway in the study of mammoths. In 1796 Cuvier released evidence that mammoths were an entirely new species of animal and not an elephant. His theory of an extinct elephant was not widely celebrated but other scientists went on to name mammoths, the first being the Woolly Mammoth named by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1799 as Elephantus primigenius and then it was renamed to Mammuthus primigenius in 1828 by Joshua Brookes.

Mammoths, meanwhile, were also being found in North America. In North Carolina in 1743 slaves dug up the remains of a Woolly Mammoth but, due in part to the experiences of some of the African native slaves, was identified by the teeth as an African Elephant. in 1806 William Clark, of prior Lewis and Clark fame, found mammoth remains in Kentucky under orders from President Jefferson to find fossils. Jefferson apparently indulged in paleontology whenever he could and is given credit to making the mammoth an adjective in using it to describe a wheel of cheese he received.

Mammoth skeletons are still found today in Siberia, La Brea, and other sties around the Northern Hemisphere. Frozen mammoths are recovered now and again mostly in areas like extreme northern Siberia. The latest to be found was named Lyuba and placed on display in a carefully regulated display case and has been a traveling exhibit in many museums across North America in the past few years. Lyuba was found in Siberia in 2007 on the Yamal Peninsula.

11 October 2011

Mammoth Hair

Mammoths, due to their almost unnatural propensity for freezing and being thawed out by interested scientists, even though it is a rare feat to find a frozen mammoth, have been able to provide science with many many clues to their life that dinosaurs never have given to science. The papers I have selected today represent a mix of that knowledge. I selected the papers I did because they are interesting, intriguing, and one is almost unbelievable and will, while being hard to read because of the technicality of scientific writing, almost certainly entertain your imagination while you try to understand how the scientists discovered what they discovered.

The first paper is one that anyone could come to have expected in the nuclear and information ages. Hendrik Poinar, et al. have researched and pulled information from Woolly Mammoth samples pulled from Siberia which has led, through polymerase chain reaction and pyrosequencing, to the sequencing of 28 million base pairs of DNA. 13 million base pairs were decidedly mammoth and the research also confirmed, in comparison with the modern African Elephant (98.55% similar), that the evolutionary divergence of the species from one another at the generic level occurred 5 to 6 million years ago. The study goes on to conclude that the realm of paleogenomics could use the completeness of mammoth DNA as a springboard into studying fully sequenced DNA of extinct species as there was enough information to fully sequence the entire mammoth's DNA.

The second paper uses data gathered from Wooly Mammoths to examine climate change and the interaction with humans amongst other things. David Nogués-Bravo et al. measured climate conditions in a multitude of years comparing them with mammoths from the same time frame and mixing in models of human-mammoth interaction to determine the factors that may have led to the extinction of the Eurasian Woolly Mammoth. The study claims that climactic climate changes toward the end of the Late Pleistocene may have led to a radical drop off in the number of living animals in the species. This, coupled with the pressures of human hunting techniques being honed and becoming increasingly lethal may have, deemed highly likely by the paper, set the scene for the extinction of the Wooly Mammoth on the Eurasian landscapes.

The final paper, by Mike Spilde et al., is kind of a roller coaster of the imagination. There is a great deal of hard science, but stepping back and looking at it from a non-scientific point of view it takes a great deal of imagination to understand how biological rhythms could be discerned from an extinct species' hair. The team studied and compared the hair of mammoths gathered from permafrost samples to human hair in order to compare the biological rhythms of humans and mammoths. Hair growth, structure, and elemental composition were studied in order to gain their information. The paper is actually quite ingenious, with a fantastic picture of a living breathing animal painted very well through the study of hair alone.

10 October 2011


First and foremost, I have to share that this ridiculousness exists because some TV movies and B films always make me laugh when they take subjects like troll hunting, megalodon, and Woolly Mammoths and make them "real" and deadly to mankind. Thank you SciFi for being willing to put up some crazy made for TV movies sometimes.

Anyhow, on to the real movie Monday festivities. The first documentary clip comes from Discovery and features Columbian Mammoths found near Denver. It's rather short, but it describes the environment a little and describes a little about the Columbian Mammoths. This is found here ( The second clip is about the same animal, Columbian Mammoths, this time the batch found in Waco, Texas. This clip explains what likely happened to these mammoths and how so many were buried together ( Then there are the clips that describe and compare mammoth and mastodon. This one first is talking about Chicago's prehistoric landscape ( Finally, from Discovery Kids, we have a short guide to mammoths. It also describes mastodons, but that's okay despite its shortness (

Finally as a finale. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, which it is easier to find full clips of than Discovery programs, ran an entire episode dedicated to a Woolly Mammoth herd. The science is quite solid but it is also theatrical as the Walking with... series sometimes gets. The video here shared is the first part of that episode. Please find the rest at your discretion and enjoy it thoroughly (or buy the set on Amazon like I did a few years back).

09 October 2011

Kids and Woolly Mammoths

Mammoth being synonymous with Woolly Mammoth most times, I decided that today, in presenting coloring pages to work on I would just share with everyone the search result for my explorations. I know people could do this on their own, but honestly, there are just far too many choices under mammoth when you search for a coloring page because, in all honesty, not many of them are totally goofy and incorrect. Here, therefore, is the link to the search: Take Your Pick!

On a more personal approach on the second link, I'd like to share with you the National Geographic Creature Feature on mammoths which has a short description of mammoths and a representative picture (not a Woolly Mammoth for once!). Additionally, as nerdy as silly science jokes can be, here is a page of Woolly Mammoth jokes to share with your children today.

08 October 2011

The Real Question

I'm the only mammoth you puny humans need worry about.
The real question with mammoths is how can I find a picture of a mammoth that is not of a Woolly Mammoth? There are an abundance of images that arise from a search with mammoth in it. However, very few if any by the time you get exhausted looking at pictures of Woolly Mammoths, are of any kind of mammoth other than a Woolly Mammoth. In order to find, therefore, other kinds of mammoth to share, talk about, discuss, and otherwise visually dissect, the search has to be very specific. This ends up eliminating a lot of art prints, so I hope that not everyone today is expecting fantastic oil paintings of mammoths to adorn this page because, in fairness to the other species, I have to try my hardest to represent a lot of museum displays today in order to show all the mammoths.

Hi, my name is Lyuba
©Mauricio Antón
The direct evidence of Woolly Mammoth is all over the globe because Woolly Mammoths were all over the globe. Their bones have been found all over the globe from the extreme north as far south as Spain. Also called the "tundra mammoth" Woolly Mammoths did not venture into climates too warm for them on account of their thick shaggy coats, and this has led to some amazing discoveries. Woolly Mammoths of all ages had their tragedies like any other animal alive can and in their extremely cold habitat sometimes freezing and mummification were the end results of their lives. Famous babies like Lyuba and Dima have been pulled from glacial ice and permafrost and adults have been found in much the same fashion and, sometimes, in pieces as well. Large amounts of carcasses, about 68 in total have been pulled from Siberian permafrost and glacial ice not to mention the immense amounts of mammoth ivory that have been recovered in the past; there is a river in Siberia where more than 8,000 mammoth bones have been washed up together. Most stories about the flesh of mammoths being edible are false, of course, the animals having decayed significantly, typically, prior to their mummification.

The next mammoth that there are illustrations or restorations of in museums is the Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). The Columbian Mammoth is like a bald version of the Wooly Mammoth in many ways. Its remains have been found throughout the complex of the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California as well as southern countries of North America such as Nicaragua and Honduras. One of the more elephantine of the mammoths, the Columbian Mammoth seems to have eaten quite a bit of fruit in addition to grasses and conifers. The stomach contents of these animals have been examined from the La Brea specimens. The largest concetration of Columbian Mammoth skeletons actually is found in Waco, Texas at what is conveniently called The Waco Mammoth Site. Over 22 individual mammoths have been found at the site since 1978 along with the remains of a Giant Camel and Smilodon. The site is also recognized by the National Park Service as the only site in America that is recognized as the complete burial of a nursery of Pleistocene mammals.

Mammuthus armeniacus, the enormous member of the family
Another mammoth that has become somewhat prominent is the Steppe Mammoth (Mammuthus armeniacus) which was found in the steppe region of Eurasia. It is thought to have evolved from the Southern Mammoth and has been found in English cliffs near West Runton in Norfolk as well as the most complete specimen having been found in, of all places, Siberia again. In 2008 France also claimed the remains of a Steppe Mammoth. The Steppe Mammoth is thought to be the largest of the Mammuthus genus and, extrapolating from the female found in Siberia under the assumption that the males, like in elephants, would be a good deal larger and bulkier than the females, is also thought to be larger than Deinotherium; Deinotherium is a genus of Proboscidea which possesses the general build of all members of the family but differentiates in being enormous as well as in having tusks that grow out of the extreme from of the mandible and pointing almost straight down with some backward curve to them earning the animal the name the "Hoe Tusker." Should this prove true, the Steppe Mammoth would then be the largest land mammal to have ever lived aside from Indricotherium and perhaps (some debate) Mammuthus sungari.

Notice my coneheaded appearance.
A lesser known mammoth that also has been found and restored is the Southern Mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis) of Southern Europe and Central Asia.

©Heinrich Harder
And the final mammoth that has been restored or illustrated is the Imperial Mammoth (Mammuthus imperator) of North America.

Other mammoths include the Songhua River Mammoth Mammuthus sungari, the Sardinian Dwarf Mammoth Mammuthus lamarmorae, the South African Mammoth Mammuthus subplanifrons, the Pygmy Mammoth Mammuthus exilis, and the African Mammoth Mammuthus africanavus.

07 October 2011

Bigger, Maybe not Meaner

What's bigger but not necessarily meaner than Smilodon? Any one of the various kinds of mammoth. Mammoths are not limited to the ever famous Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) but is actually a genus of prehistoric Elephantids (of the order Proboscidea- it's just fun to say) comprising over ten species of mammoth from across the world. There are European, Asian, African, Wooly, and dwarf mammoths, mammoths named after rivers and the institutions or people that found them initially, and, of course, some of these names are actually synonyms of other names. Mammoths were fairly large animals, but as you can see, not all of them were even as large as a modern African Elephant. Also, it's important to note, a mammoth is not the same thing as a mastodon.

While they may appear similar, mastodons and mammoths are radically different animals. While both stand at about the height of an Asian Elephant, much shorter than an African Elephant, the tusks of the two proboscids immediately show that they are different animals. The tusks of mastodons are shorter and less curved than those of mammoths. The tusk of a mammoth had the capability of growing as long as the mammoth was tall as well. Additionally, while we're at the mouth, mastodons had teeth suited to foraging amongst the trees and eating twigs as well as leaves whereas the teeth of a mammoth were built to grind down grass and other low vegetation. Also, mammoths replaced their teeth up to six times during life. After this last replacement, if the teeth were ground down too much to be of use the mammoth could slowly begin to starve to death rather than die of old age.

Due to popular sentiment one would believe that the mammoth's hair would also immediately show differences between the two, however, not all mammoths were of the "woolly" persuasion. A mammoth did have more hair, but not always the shaggy coat. One thing it certainly had that a mastodon did not was an extremely high brow ridge and parietal peaking of its skull; basically giving it a sharpened looking apex of its skull. Both animals had shorter trunks than the elephants we know today as well. Overall mammoths were almost one and a half times as tall as mastodons, including the large forehead, and some could weigh two to four tonnes more.

The last bit of difference is that mammoths are a younger genus that most likely evolved either directly from mastodons or directly from the same ancestral group which was busy splitting into African and Asian Elephants at the same time. Mastodons appear from 33.9mya to 11,000 years ago whereas mammoths appear from 4.8mya to 4,500 years ago. Thinking about that time range puts us into the first organized civilizations in Southwestern Asia so it is quite possible that some of the more advanced civilizations of humanity may have run into mammoths before their extinction.

06 October 2011

The Popular Populator

Smilodon, as mentioned yesterday, has been popular for a good long time. There are a number of things that make extinct animals popular including size, likeness to living animals, the WOW! factor, etc.; Smilodon possesses all three of these things. The first two roll into one thing; Smilodon is an enormous cat, larger than the largest living cat in existence. Also, those teeth! Amazingly scary looking skulls on these animals regardless of how they used their teeth. So where have these animals been popular in our culture?

First stop is the Flintstones. Despite some of its crazier depictions of dinosaurs and other extinct animals, Smilodon was the Rubble's family pet, a large cat named Baby Puss:
Smilodon has also shown up in numerous documentaries over time as well from National Geographic to Walking with Prehistoric Beasts.

They've been in Sinbad (not the comedian) movies like Eye of the Tiger

Sinbad attacks the cat from behind and promptly gets scratched up like the big cheat he is. I'm sure he ends up killing the cat, but he should have been cat food! Anyhow, Smilodon has continued its acting career and is now the center of attention rather than having cameos due to roles such as Diego.

Then, of course, there's always video games like Zoo Tycoon and Spore. Unfortunately most of the Spore renditions are barely cat like, so instead, here's the Smilodon from Zoo Tycoon 2.

05 October 2011

International Discovery

Smilodon was discovered in Brazil in 1841 by a Danish naturalist named Peter Wilhelm Lund. Lund's cat was S. populator and this cat became world famous rather quickly. Lund, however, gave up paleontology within the next year after finding human remains fossilized with long extinct animals. Naturalists like Darwin were thrilled by this discovery while Lund took an early retirement and basically gave up science after being faced with evidence that his beliefs about the evolution of man, adapted from Cuvier's work, were basically all wrong. The history of Smilodon actually ends with S. populator and begins with S. gracilis. The latter species is thought to have evolved from Megantereon, an older saber tooth cat belonging to the same family but a different genus, in North America nearly 2.5 million years ago.

This split and subsequent evolution lasted as one North American family until probably about 1.6 million years ago when a second group split off and evolved separately from S. gracilis as it moved slowly south toward the continent of South America. This distance and need for new adaptations to cope with the new environment would have prompted the big cats to adjust or die out in the south. The cats adapted over time and became a new species within the Smilodon genus now known as S. fatalis. This species was about the size of a Siberian Tiger, the largest living cat, and was the medium build of the Smilodon family with the North American species S. gracilis being the smallest. Sometimes two subspecies are considered to belong to S. fatalis, these being S. californicus and S. floridanus.

As the cats continued to move south to more fertile hunting grounds and less competition amongst themselves and other now extinct predators such as cave lions, short faced bears, and large birds. In fact, before S. fatalis began to invade South America thanks to the connection of the Panamanian land bridge, there was not one large mega-predator of mammalian descent on the continent. The apex predator was a bird. However, when Smilodon moved in and spread out and new adaptations began to develop and a separate recognizable species evolved from S. fatalis, the birds became the targets of these predators just like the mammals were and the birds began to die out rapidly. This new species was the aforementioned S. populator. The largest and strongest of the Smilodon family, this Smilodon spread along the eastern side of the continent and at four feet tall at the shoulders, weighing almost 1,100 pounds, and possessing twelve inch long teeth, not much was going to stop its spread.

Smilodon, however, ended with S. populator as these cats are thought to have diverged in evolution from the modern felids over 14 million years ago. There are no surviving members of its family or genus and certainly not species. The cat in your house is more closely related to lions and tigers than it ever was to the saber tooth cats.

04 October 2011

Curiousity About the Cat

Research done on Smilodon, particularly S. fatalis, is widespread. This is a very good thing for our inquisitive minds. Topics of research have varied from forelimb strength to animal growth based on the teeth to behaviors implied from skeletal positioning or even computer simulation. Unlike with dinosaurs, mammals tend to be connected a lot more in the human psyche to the world we see around us, given that mammals are very much in charge of the world at this point overall, this makes a lot of sense. Being mammals we tend to see mammals as the highest class of animals around us. However, all this does, in the end, is help us to add more and more research to the pile that can be, and many times is, influenced, for better or worse, by the existence of living cousins or descendants of the animal in question. Perhaps that is why there is so much research available on Smilodon; because so many people love cats after all.

The research done on the forelimb strength was conducted by Julie Meachen and Blaire Van Valkenburgh of the University of California Los Angeles, colloquially known as UCLA of course (you can see Dr. Van Valkenburgh's other projects and ongoing research on his website). The paper states that through radiography of humeral bone it was possible to determine that the Smilodon was capable of grappling and subduing large prey due to superior forelimb strength. It goes on to comment on the need to do so in order to protect those fragile saber length canines as previously discussed here.

The research done on the canines themselves by Robert Feranec of UCBerkeley (people in California love extinct mammals- probably something to do with La Brea started the craze!) discusses a large number of things including diet, growth, and the development of the canines. Isotopic evidence was used to look inside the canine and determine how it grew and developed. Total animal growth was also determined, or inferred at least, by looking at the growth of the canines; the animal does have to grow to hold those teeth after all and any inferences made from there are most likely fairly reliable. The diet question is answered through the same analysis but is not involved in naming specific animals, only making reference to animals with specific isotopic values in their systems which would require a second set of data to name the animals and extensive testing of other extinct animals which were contemporary with Smilodon.

The final paper for today was authored by an Australian group headed by Colin McHenry of the University of Newcastle's departments of engineering and life sciences. The paper uses S. fatalis, like the other two papers and the researchers constructed a three dimensional computer simulation around the markers of behavior so far found in the cat. From my experience raising Smilodon in zoos (see Zoo Tycoon 2) I know, granted my simulation was probably not as rigorous as the Australian study by a great margin, that Smilodon are quite social animals with some odd habits (such as loving being washed). All joking aside, however, the simulation which was constructed was very thorough and used all sorts of different points of knowledge available to the gentlemen and ladies conducting the simulation to model, as accurately as was possible, the behaviors of Smilodon. Personally, I think they have done a fantastic job and have probably come quite close to the actual lifestyle of Smilodon, but only time travel could tell, so we may well never know.

03 October 2011

More Cat Videos on the Internet

This is, however, a different kind of cat video. There is very little that is cute or funny about Smilodon. The videos we have come from documentaries entirely, unfortunately, with one or two exceptions; depending on if you can find clips for the movie roles of Smilodon. The documentaries that are online as full shows and clips are typically very well done and typically done with computers. The old dinosaur documentaries of claymation and illustration do not exist for Smilodon or the Ice Age mammals at all really.

To the videos! Number 1 is a clip from a National Geographic special that was coupled with sales of the movie 10,000B.C. a few years ago. It's a fairly good documentary and includes a segment in which scientists create a model and experiment with the teeth of Smilodon.

Number two comes from an Animal Planet documentary which approaches the subject as if time travel and direct study were possible. Always an interesting approach, this type of special is quite good at getting across the information as well as a little excitement at the same time.

Number three, despite not being informational at all is just for fun. One of the "acting" credits of Smilodon, computer generated of course, is in the BBC show Primeval during the second season. I opted for a video someone has mashed together of that particular episode using Eye of the Tiger as a soundtrack.

02 October 2011

Never Forgotten... Momentarily Delayed

I apologize for my slowness today. I have no idea what has come over me today but I have been running at about half speed all day and writing about Smilodon and finding child friendly resources has been just as slow unfortunately. However, in the end science prevails! It had a little help from the internet the helping hand of some previously known but helpful sites like Enchanted Learning, which has provided us with a child friendly fact page as well as a coloring page. Then, there are many other coloring pages as well including this, this, and this. They're all done to a different degree of accuracy and in different poses, but they're fun. Finally, I thought it couldn't get better, but I was wrong. For those parents and children that are feeling really artsy, or even just adults that are feeling artsy even if they don't have children, there is this pop-up design with instructions from National Geographic. I may just go make one now.

01 October 2011

The Faces of A Cat

©Daniel Reed

It's simply amazing how many different ways a cat can be drawn. The typical stance of Smilodon species is the same throughout despite the artist. Large stout cat body. Long saber teeth. Short bobbed tail like a bobcat, lynx, or a serval (though these are a bit longer than the other two). Usually snarling or lying in a group like lions. Sometimes spotted and other times with a lion's solid colored coat, rarely striped like a tiger despite the common name. Overall the general consensus on illustrating Smilodon seems to be already organized and, unlike dinosaurs, has been highly depictive (according to Webster's I'm making up words) of a high energy predator for many, many years.

©Charles R. Knight
The great paleo-artist Charles R. Knight painted a wonderful Smilodon years ago that looks a great deal like the Smilodon that modern artists still draw when they think of the big cat; an enormous flip is not seen here like it is for his paintings of dinosaurs which are thought of as extremely out of touch with the reality of dinosaurs. I would never belittle Charles Knight, one of my favorite posters ever when I was little was a copy of one of Knight's murals, but the truth is that he just didn't come up to snuff after the rethinking of dinosaur energetics and posturing twenty years after his death.

The skeleton of Smilodon is, itself, also very cat-like, which makes complete sense considering that Smilodon is, essentially, a giant prehistoric lion from the Americas. Regardless of this, however, it is very important to remember that the genus and the family which the three species of Smilodon belong to have no living relatives in our modern world. Smilodon, also, was not built like your tabby or even much like a lion which is capable of admirable speeds. Smilodon did not possess the leaping ability of the tabby nor the speed of cheetahs and maybe not even that of lions despite the similarity. The skeletal muscle attachment sights tell a significantly different story which leads us to the conclusion that Smilodon was, despite being a cat, built mush more like a Grizzly Bear. Muscles and strength would match a lifestyle of a heavyweight wrestler far more than a lithe featherweight pouncer when it comes to Smilodon.

The body of Smilodon here looks lithe and still powerful, but maybe almost too thin. The saber teeth we know, just from thoughts of our own teeth and looking at the thin recurved surface, that those teeth may not have been able to handle much pressure. Scientists have even gone so far as to prove that the teeth were not made for struggling with prey as large as the strength of the body was able to handle. The strength of the cat could tackle a bison, as an example, but it has been shown that the teeth would be liable to snap under the stress of puncturing a bison at full gallop which points to the importance of the cat's overall strength. Many conjectures have been made about the role of the teeth and we can examine those later, however. The jaw itself, though, has also been shown, through analysis of muscle attachment sites and modeling of the muscles, to be significantly weaker than would be expected. How does an animal like this kill things if its enormous teeth are likely to succumb to injury and it has a weak jaw?

©Todd Marshall
Sometimes just being the strongest kid on the block goes a long way. It could be that the wrestling strength existed to tire out, knock down, subdue, and pin prey items so taht those teeth could work like daggers and cause the prey item to bleed out. An 1,100 pound cat wrestling a 2,000 pound prehistoric bison to the ground at a gallop seems highly improbable, but if these animals hunted as lionesses do, in a coordinated group, it could easily be done and a number of large strong cats holding the animal's head down for one swift stab of the jugular would certainly work. Todd Marshall's Smilodon is the only one I've shown here today that gives off that fierceness and power I believe. In a pose much like Knight's (it almost looks like an homage to me), this cat shows that it has the power and toughness to wrestle prey. I for one would actually be afraid of this cat whereas some of the rest look like pets, not that I'd mind having a Smilodon as a pet. Barney Rubble did afterall: