Camels endured prehistoric freezing arctic

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof | Posted - Mar 9th, 2013 @ 8:51am


17 photos

ELLESMERE ISLAND, Canada — Everything you thought you knew about camels could change with the recent discovery of Camelini fossils in the High Arctic of Canada.

Canadian researchers found fossil remains from the pliocene period on Ellesmere Island in Canada, and were able to identify them through 3D scans and collagen peptide markers. Scientists said the survival of the collagen was "exceptional" thanks to the consistently chilly temperatures of the region.

The study was published in the March 5 issue of "Nature Communications."

Previous research found camel fossils in the Yukon, but the Ellesmere remains were nearly 750 miles north of those remains.

"The Ellesmere camel is the first evidence that camels inhabited the High Arctic at a time when global temperatures were ~2 to 3 °C greater than modern," researchers wrote.

These northern prehistoric camels would have lived in a forest habitat, with slightly below freezing mean annual temperature, affecting their evolution.

(Photo: Martin Lipman)

"The findings provide evidence for understanding the evolutionary history of a lineage that also gave rise to modern camels," researchers wrote.

The camel's famous humps could have been used as fat storage for the high-arctic-dwelling animals, researchers said.

"Fat deposits could have been critically important for allowing populations to survive and reproduce in harsh climates characterized by 6-month long, cold, winters," they wrote.

The wide, flat foot of modern camels function well on soft surfaces like sand and snow.

Teeth patterns of modern camels also correlate with the pliocene-aged Ellesmere Island. Lower crowned teeth among camels indicate the animals inhabit more closed, forested habitats. Higher crowned teeth indicate open habitats.

"The relatively low-crowned teeth seen in camels today may be the result of a forest-dwelling ancestor," they said.

The fossils are currently displayed in the Canadian Museum of Nature.

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