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Woolly Rhino

The Wooly rhino is an extinct rhinoceros species lived during the Pleistocene epoch. The appearance of this species is known from cave paintings and mummified individuals found in its native range. Several fossil specimens were found in Siberia, with the latest being in 2007.

Scientists believe that they appeared around 350000 years ago and survived the last glacial period (i.e. the Ice Age; 10000 years ago). However, recent radiocarbon dating suggests that the Woolly rhinos lived as recently as 8000 BC in West Siberia, though the accuracy of this date is not certain. Their extinction co-occurred with the minor climatic changes that took place for around 1000 – 1250 years after the Ice Age. Many Pleistocene megafauna species went extinct around the same time.

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Scientific classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Perissodactyla
Family Rhinocerotidae
Genus Coelodonta
Species C. antiquitatis
Binomial name Coelodonta antiquitatis

Physical Description

  • Size – They were 10 to 12.5 feet in length, and had a shoulder height of 6.6 ft.
  • Weight – The Wooly rhino used to weigh around 4000 to 6000 pounds.
  • Horn – They had two horns made of keratin. The anterior horn was around 24 inches in length.
  • Appearance – They had long, thick fur; short, thick legs; small ears and a stockily built body.

Range

The Woolly rhino was found throughout Northern Asia and parts of Europe. Their distribution extended from Scotland to Spain to as far as South Korea. Researchers believe that the Woolly rhino had the largest known range of any rhino species (alive or extinct) in the latter part of the Pleistocene epoch. However, the population could never extend their range to North America by moving across the Bearing Strait. Their fossil remains are often found across its historic range in Asia and Europe.

Adaptation

The Woolly rhino was the last and most derived member of Pleistocene rhinoceros descent. Even though the Woolly rhino was specialized for extreme cold weather, yet they were capable of dealing with warmer climates. The thick woolly pelage and compact limbs made them well suited to the steppe-tundra surrounding prevalent throughout the Palearctic ecozone during the Pleistocene glaciations.

Interesting Facts

  • The genus Coelodonta means “cavity tooth”.
  • A complete carcass of a female Woolly Rhino was discovered at Staruni, which now falls in Ukraine. The salt and oil composition prevented decomposing that kept the soft tissues remain intact.
  • A study of this species’ DNA samples showed that their closest extant relative is Sumatran rhino.
  • During the 19th century, when the horns of Woolly rhinoceros were found in Russia, many thought that they were the claws of a giant bird.
  • The Pinhole Cave Man, or Pin Hole Cave Man, is a name for an engraved human figure on a woolly rhinoceros’ rib bone found at the Creswell Crags, England.
  • Their shape was only known from prehistoric cave paintings till an almost preserved female specimen discovered in a tar pit in Starunia, Poland. It is now is on display at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Museum of Natural History in Kraków.
  • A baby Woolly rhino, found by Alexander Banderov, a hunter and businessman from Abyysky, in a frozen riverbank in Siberia, was the only complete young specimen ever found. The individual, later nicknamed Sasha, was donated it to the Yakutian Academy of Sciences in Russia for study.
  • In 2011, the fossil of a previously unknown type of woolly rhino was unearthed on Tibetan Plateau. The specimen was named Coelodonta thibetana, the Tibetan woolly rhino. Scientists believe that they have walked on earth around 3.7 million years ago – before the Ice Age.

Behavior and Habitat

They used their horns for defensive purposes; and also to attract females during the mating season. This species wandered the Doggerland and most of the Northern Europe. The alternative warm and cold seasons also forced them to migrate and expand their range. The habitat of Woolly Rhino also supported other grazing herbivores like Woolly mammoth, Bison and Wild horses.

Diet

The palaeodiet of the woolly rhinoceros has been a matter of controversy. Researchers have found both browsing and grazing modes of eating habit. They used to feed on grass, leaves, twigs, shrubs, lichens, mosses and other vegetation.

Extinction Causes

Climate change and hyperdisease falls among the theories associated with the extinction of Woolly rhino. However, the main reason is believed to be hunting by the human. As they were adapted to expreme conditions, climate change could not the primary reason for which they went extinct. Other cold-adapted species like muskox, wisent, reindeer and others survived this time that backs the ‘overhunting’ hypothesis.

Published on June 23rd 2015 by under Mammals.
Article was last reviewed on 23rd June 2015.

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