Coelodonta antiquitatis – Our Favourite Perissodactyl

The origins of the ungulates (hoofed mammals) go back to the Palaeocene and this great group of mammals that includes such familiar creatures as deer, pigs, camels, horses not to mention whales and dolphins, was soon divided into animals with even-toed hooves (Artiodactyls) and the odd-toed hooves (Perissodactyls).

From this vast group of warm-blooded animals it is difficult to pick a favourite but if pushed we would say that it would be that member of the Perissodactyls – the Woolly Rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis).  These members of the rhinoceros family may have evolved in China, but they spread right across the northern hemisphere and survived up to around 10,000 years ago.

Standing around 2.2 metres tall at the shoulder, these heavy weight grazers resemble the rhinos found in Africa today, but have a thick coat of fur and extraordinarily long horns, sometimes more than 2 metres long.

An Illustration of a Woolly Rhino

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The man we have drawn provides an approximate scale.

Named and described by the German naturalist J. F. Blumenbach in 1807, these shaggy animals had short legs, short ears (adaptations for a cold climate) and most probably short eyesight (rhinos today have poor vision).  Weighing up to 2,000 kilogrammes, with perhaps some males being even heavier these were extremely dangerous animals despite being entirely herbivorous.

There are several reasons why we like the Woolly Rhino, firstly there are lots of fossils of them, from their preserved horns and skin to their shed teeth.  The fossils of these creatures have been found all over Europe and in parts of the UK.  Secondly, these animals are often featured in movies and artwork showing Ice Age animals and thirdly, there are some super cave paintings of them provided by our ancestors.  We also love all the stories and myths that surround these animals, for example fossil Woolly Rhino horns eroding out of the permafrost in Siberia were mistaken for the giant claws of a huge bird that was supposed to live in the far north.  The natives would tell stories of this ferocious monster that could snatch up a reindeer in its terrible claws.  It was many years before the link was made between these claw-like fossils and the remains of Ice Age animals that had once roamed that part of the world.

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