All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
6 04, 2012

Woolly Mammoth Colour Variations

By | April 6th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Research into Woolly Mammoth Genome Provides Understanding of Hair Colour

For many years, scientists believed that Woolly Mammoths were brown in colour but recent studies using frozen Woolly Mammoth remains discovered in Siberia has provided a better understanding of the colour variations of these Ice Age creatures.  Thanks to the discovery of some beautifully preserved specimens many of them babies or juveniles (Dima, Lyuba and Yuka for example), palaeontologists have a much better idea of the genome of these prehistoric mammals.

It is from this better understanding of the DNA of Woolly Mammoths (M. primigenius), that scientists have begun to piece together evidence to suggest that Mammoths could have almost the same hair colouration variances as modern humans, with ginger, brunettes and even a potential blonde Mammoth.

The coat of Woolly Mammoths was adapted to the harsh climate of the northern Steppe.  It consisted of two distinct layers.  The first layer was composed of long, coarse guard hairs, six times thicker than human hair.  This coat grew to almost a metre long in adult animals.  This coat served to trap air helping to keep the animal warm and also effectively to waterproof and snowproof the animal in a similar way to the long, shaggy coat of an extant Musk Ox.

The second, inner layer which made up the undercoat  had hairs that were much thinner, shorter and softer.  This coat would have trapped air too, helping to insulate the animal from the cold.  Columbian Mammoths (Mammuthus columbi), which lived in North America; were less hairy than their Siberian cousins.  It is possible that Mammoths moulted in the spring, producing a lighter summer coat.

The colour of the hairy coat of a Woolly Mammoth, according the genome research could vary.  There were indeed brown Woolly Mammoths, but also those which were a reddish/orange in colour.  Some Mammoths were also a strawberry blonde hue.  It seems that if you were to travel back in time to Siberia 25,000 years ago and observed several family groups of Woolly Mammoths you would probably have seen a surprising amount of coat colour variation.

Ironically, a number of cave paintings show Woolly Mammoths.  These creatures were obviously very important to our ancestors as sources of meat, hide and ivory for tools.  These large herbivores would have been a formidable opponent for human hunters armed with nothing more than sharpened stakes and stone tipped spears.  The cave paintings depict Mammoths in a variety of colours, more than 350 caves with paintings have been discovered in Europe alone.  Some of these cave have paintings of Mammoths on their walls.  It was thought that the cave artists using natural pigments such as ochre, haematite and charcoal, showed the Mammoths in a variety of colours for perhaps symbolic affect or to portray deeper meaning.   However, a 21st Century understanding of the Mammoth genome demonstrates that Woolly Mammoths did come in a variety a colours.

A Reddish/Brown Woolly Mammoth Model

Woolly Mammoth Model without the usual brown coat

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For model makers, there is a tendency to produce Woolly Mammoth models and other Ice Age toys that are brown in colour.  The Natural History Museum produced a reddish/brown Mammoth some years ago, (see picture above), around the same time that Everything Dinosaur team members were working on a Woolly Rhino model (Coelodonta).  However, with this increased knowledge regarding the coats of these Ice Age creatures perhaps it is merely a question of time as to when a manufacturer will break rank and produce a “strawberry blonde” Woolly Mammoth like “Yuka”.

To view Prehistoric Mammal models including Woolly Mammoths: Ice Age Toys

Strawberry Blonde Woolly Mammoths – Papo’s Next Innovation?

Strawberry Blonde Mammoth from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The recently introduced, Papo Woolly Mammoth juvenile has been given a lighter coloured coat similar to the coat found on the carcase of the recently discovered Siberian Mammoth juvenile known as “Yuka”.

6 04, 2012

Baby Mammoth Killed by Lions and then Butchered by Humans

By | April 6th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities|0 Comments

Yuka – The Siberian Baby Mammoth Killed by Steppe Lion and then Butchered by Humans

A number of television documentaries have aired recently concerning the discovery and the initial research on a baby Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) whose frozen carcase was recovered from Siberia.  Each spring, as the winter snows thaw, a number of Pleistocene animal remains are discovered as they are eroded out of the thawing ground by the action of rivers in spate.  These fossils, some of them beautifully preserved with internal organs and fur intact reveal that this part of the world during the Pleistocene Epoch was inhabited by some spectacular prehistoric mammals.

The habitat known as the Russian Mammoth steppe was a huge expanse of grassland that existed between the northern ice sheets and more wooded, mainly conifer forest that was to be found further south.  A number of large herbivores grazed on the plains.  As well as Mammoths, there were Woolly Rhinos (Coelodonta spp.), giant deer, several other types of now extinct antelope and horses.  Living alongside these herbivores there were several types of predator, a number of species of bear, plus Sabre Tooth Cats and other members of the Felidae (cat family) such as Cave Lions and the slightly smaller Steppe Lion.

Recently, the body of a baby Mammoth was discovered and scientists from the international Mammuthus organisation have been studying this carcase in a bid to find out more about Mammoths in general and to identify how this particular young animal met its end.  The baby Mammoth has been given the name Yuka, and as well as being remarkably well-preserved, this corpse reveals evidence with other inhabitants of the Mammoth steppe, including the possibility of human hunters.

Yuka – The Baby Mammoth

Mammoth Carcase shows signs of Predation

Picture Credit: International Mammuthus Organisation

 The skull and pelvis have been removed from the corpse, they were found close to the body but most of the ribs and much of the spine is missing.  There is a long, straight cut along the top of the animal’s back, this was made by people, but whether it is evidence of the body being butchered as the remains rested on the steppe thousands of years ago or more recent human activity is difficult to determine.

The scientists are fairly certain that this young Mammoth was not actually killed by people.  Yuka shows signs of being attacked by an apex predator possibly a Cave Lion or a Steppe Lion, certainly a member of the Felidae (cat family).  It is very likely that this predator killed the Mammoth calf, human hunters may have discovered the carcase and removed some of the bones and meat, or perhaps they chased the lion(s) off the kill and took over the body, robbing the big cats of their meal.

Poor Yuka, seems to have had a very unfortunate and brief life.  Healed scratches on the preserved skin shows that this Mammoth survived another attack by a cat – possibly an Eurasian Cave Lion, but much deeper wounds and a broken leg which had not healed imply that a second attack was either fatal or severely weakened the young animal.

The carcase provides evidence of potential ancient human interaction.  Radio carbon dating indicates that this Mammoth lived right at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, perhaps it was one of the last Mammoths to live in this part of Siberia.  The corpse is estimated to be around 10,000 years old.  The long, straight cut along the back, in conjunction with other cut marks that show a distinctive pattern as if they were created by a saw-bladed cutting tool of some kind, provide evidence that humans have interfered with the body.

If the liver had been removed, then this could be further evidence that the carcase had been butchered for its meat.  The liver is regarded as one of the most nutritious parts of any mammal carcase.  Nomadic hunters today, when killing and butchering large mammals such as antelope often remove the liver first.  If the liver is missing and the body cavity shows signs of intrusion then this could confirm the hypothesis that some human hunters 10,000 years ago grabbed an opportunity to get some food from the young Mammoth’s remains.

The researchers from the International Mammuthus Organisation suggest that Yuka was about 30 months old at the time of death.  In Africa, lions are known to attack young elephants (African elephants – genus Loxodonta), but this is the first time that evidence has been found of a Woolly Mammoth being attacked by members of the Felidae.

Tackling an elephant is a substantial task, even for a pride of lions.  Often the elephants are aware of the big cats, but during daylight they can fend off any attacks.  The lions tend to wait until dark, their better night vision gives them an advantage over their much heavier intended victims.  It can only be speculated, but perhaps a Steppe Lion attacked a weakened Yuka at night, finally bring the young animal down.

Much of the soft tissue is still connected to the bones, and there is a substantial amount of Mammoth fur on the remains.  Fur is still on the flanks, on the rump and the feet, it is as strawberry blond colour, bearing out predictions made a few years ago on the potential colour of Mammoth fur after a detailed genetic analysis on another frozen baby Mammoth known as Lyuba.

Finding such beautifully, well-preserved remains of these ancient herbivores will help scientists to better understand Mammoth DNA and traits such as eye and hair colour.  Although, many Mammoths were a reddish-brown colour, the gene that contains fur/hair colour is very similar to the gene that controls the colour of human hair.  This means that Woolly Mammoths could be as varied in colour as human hair – Mammoths could be blond, ginger or even brunettes.

To view Woolly Mammoth soft toys and other prehistoric animal soft toys: Ice Age Soft Toys

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