The Canadian high Arctic, it seems, was once home to a massive, “presumably shaggy” species of camel. Now known as desert specialists, the ancient relatives of modern camels first grew up not in parched sand but in frigid snow. Camels’ ancestors have been traced back to North America some 45 million years ago, and a new fossil find by the the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Natalia Rybczynski and colleagues adds to this case with the nearly one-ton Arctic edition of the humped mammal.
According to Rybczynski in the video above, these humped mammals moved over to Asia on a land bridge across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia.
“The fossils, dug up by Rybczynski and her colleagues in recent field seasons, came from a gravel-rich layer of sediments laid down more than 3.4 million years ago,” says Sid Perkins for Science.
The 30 or so bits of bone, none more than 7 centimeters long, have suffered much since they were entombed.
… Considering the proportions of the bone fragments, the camel was a giant, probably about 2.7 meters tall at the shoulder—almost 30% larger than its modern relatives are. The moose-sized mammal likely tipped the scales at 900 kilograms at the end of the summer browsing season but then slimmed down as it drew on fat reserves in its hump to sustain itself through the harsh Arctic winter.
At the time when the camels were stomping around, said Rybczynski, the planet would have been, on average, a few degrees warmer than it is now. But polar amplification, just like today, meant that the Arctic regions would have been 25 to 33 F warmer. That being said, it’s still the Arctic, and it still would have been very cold and very dark.
Based on other fossils found nearby, the camels would have lived in a forest alongside more expected Canadian fauna, including bears and deer and beavers.
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