Bone Fragments Of Prehistoric Camel Unearthed In Canada’s High Arctic

By Staff Reporter on March 6, 2013 7:16 AM EST

Camels
Ancient camels once thrived in the canadian high Arctic millions of years ago (Photo: Flickr.com/FriskoDude)

Fossilized bone fragments of a camel recovered from Ellesmere Island in Canada suggests that the ancestors of modern camels once roamed the subfreezing forests of the Canada's High Arctic.

Researcher Natalia Rybczynski, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, discovered a total of 30 fragments of a camel's lower leg bone on Ellesmere Island in Canada's High Arctic. The bone fragments date back to 3.5 million years ago, during the mid-Pliocene warm period when the temperature of the planet was 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) warmer than today. The Ellesmere Island, where the camel bones were found, was about 36 degrees F (20 degrees C) warmer than it is today. The region would have looked more like coniferous forests rather than an Arctic landscape, reports NBC News.

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This suggests that modern camels, which are now found only in Africa and Asia, are descendants of animals that once dwelled in North America millions of years ago and later died out.

The Arctic camel was 30 percent larger than the modern ones and would have likely measured up to 11 feet. They probably had only one hump that helped them store huge amounts of fat needed to survive long, snowy Arctic winters, explained Rybczynski. She also suggested that the modern camels could have evolved their broad, flat feet to walk on sand, from Arctic camels which had to walk on snow.

Camels belong to the Camelus genus and first originated in North America some 45 million years ago, during the Eocene period. Later, they crossed to Eurasia over the Bering Isthmus landbridge between Alaska and Russia, according to a report in LiveScience.

Rybczynski discovered the first fragment of the Arctic camel in 2006. By 2010, the paleontologist and her team collected a total of 30 bone fragments belonging to a camel's tibia or shinbone. Using a technique called collagen fingerprinting, the team was able to determine the identity and the age of the camel.

Based on the fingerprinting, Rybczynski found out that the Arctic camels bear similarities with modern dromedary camels and also with giant Yukon camels which lived about 1,240 miles away from the site where the camel bones were found.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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