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3.6 million year old rhino found: Adapted to Ice Age because it was “primitive”?

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Woolly rhino skull and jaw. Bottom: Woolly rhino illustration by Julie Naylor. (Credit/Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County

From “Woolly Rhino Fossil Discovery in Tibet Provides Important Clues to Evolution of Ice Age Giants” (ScienceDaily, Sep. 2, 2011), we learn:

A new paper published in the journal Science reveals the discovery of a primitive woolly rhino fossil in the Himalayas, which suggests some giant mammals first evolved in present-day Tibet before the beginning of the Ice Age. The extinction of Ice Age giants such as woolly mammoths and rhinos, giant sloths, and saber-tooth cats has been widely studied, but much less is known about where these giants came from, and how they acquired their adaptations for living in a cold environment.

The new rhino is 3.6 million years old (middle Pliocene), much older and more primitive than its Ice Age (Pleistocene) descendants in the mammoth steppes across much of Europe and Asia. The extinct animal had developed special adaptations for sweeping snow using its flattened horn to reveal vegetation, a useful behavior for survival in the harsh Tibetan climate. These rhinos lived at a time when global climate was much warmer and the northern continents were free of the massive ice sheets seen in the Ice Age later.

So they had special adaptations. How, exactly, were they “primitive”?

The rhino accustomed itself to cold conditions in high elevations and became pre-adapted for the future Ice Age climate. When the Ice Age eventually arrived around 2.6 million years ago, the new paper posits, the cold-loving rhinos simply descended from the high mountains and began to expand throughout northern Asia and Europe.

And the others died out. Say again, how were they primitive?

Really primitive animals featured here (You can tell because of how they adapted to an ice-driven environment):



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