Giant camels – 30 per cent larger than their modern counterparts – surprisingly roamed the subfreezing forests of the high Arctic around 3.5 million years ago,according to a new research.
Bone fragments of the shaggy creature were found on Canada’s Ellesmere Island — the furthest north the species has ever been discovered.
A research team led by the Canadian Museum of Nature has identified the first evidence for an extinct giant camel in Canada’s High Arctic.
The discovery is based on 30 fossil fragments of a leg bone found on Ellesmere Island,Nunavut,and represents the most northerly record for early camels,whose ancestors are known to have originated in North America some 45 million years ago.
The fossils were collected over three summer field seasons (2006,2008 and 2010) and are about three and a half million years old,dating from the mid-Pliocene Epoch.
Other fossil finds at the site suggest this High Arctic camel lived in a boreal-type forest environment,during a global warm phase on the planet,according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
This is an important discovery because it provides the first evidence of camels living in the High Arctic region, said Natalia Rybczynski,a vertebrate paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature.
It extends the previous range of camels in North America northward by about 1200 km,and suggests that the lineage that gave rise to modern camels may have been originally adapted to living in an Arctic forest environment, Rybczynski said in a statement.
The camel bones were collected from a steep slope at the Fyles Leaf Bed site,a sandy deposit near Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island.
Fossils of leaves,wood and other plant material have been found at this site,but the camel is the first mammal recovered,researchers said.
Some important physical characteristics suggested the fossil fragments were part of a large tibia,the main lower-leg bone in mammals,and that they belonged to the group of cloven-hoofed animals known as artiodactyls,which includes cows,pigs and camels.
Full confirmation that the bones belonged to a camel came from a new technique called collagen fingerprinting that was pioneered by Dr Mike Buckley at the University of Manchester in England.
This profile was compared with those of 37 modern mammal species,as well as that of a fossil camel found in Yukon.
The collagen profile for the High Arctic camel most closely matched those of modern camels,specifically dromedaries (camels with one hump) as well as the Yukon giant camel,which is thought to be Paracamelus,the ancestor of modern camels.