Giant camel fossil unearthed in the Arctic


Think animals of the frozen north and you think polar bear, musk ox, and walrus – but now you can also think camel.

Canadian researchers have discovered the first evidence of an extinct giant camel in the High Arctic. A 3.5 million-year-old fossil was unearthed on Ellesmere Island, the most northerly part of Canada, which faces the Arctic Ocean.

The finding extends the previous known range of camels in North America northwards by about 750 miles, and suggests the lineage that gave rise to modern camels may have been originally adapted to living in an Arctic forest environment. It was initially unclear which species the bone came from, so the researchers, led by Dr Natalia Rybczynski, a vertebrate paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature, enlisted the help of Mike Buckley from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

Dr Buckley used the “collagen fingerprinting” technique to identify the animal. He extracted collagen from the bone fragment to create a profile. He then compared the profile to 37 modern mammal species, as well as that of a fossil camel found in the Yukon. He discovered the collagen profile for the High Arctic camel was almost an identical match to the modern dromedary as well as the Ice-Age Yukon camel.

The data, combined with the anatomical data, revealed the fragments belonged to a giant camel as the bone was 30 per cent larger than the same bone in a living camel species.  “This is the first time that collagen has been extracted and used to identify a species from such ancient bone fragments,” Dr. Buckley said.

Written By: Michael McCarthy
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  1. Natalia Rybczynski was a lab partner of mine in second year Biology at Carleton University in Ottawa. She came in late on the first day and everyone had already formed into lab partners. She was very grateful when I invited her to join as a third in my group. Maybe if I called her she would remember me and give me a job with her on one of her digs! Interestingly, she already knew at that time that she wanted to be a paleontologist and was working with a professor in that field. Nobody else, including me, had a clue what we wanted to do.

  2. Does “30 % larger” mean by length or by volume?

    Could such a difference in size typically be due to an especially large member of the species fossilizing rather than the species having on average larger members? (For this camel that’s unlikely because it’s in the Arctic so would need to be larger, but suppose factors like that weren’t relevant.) That’s much more plausible if it’s a 30 % volume difference.

  3. I remember a lecture and presentation on a late Cretaceous pterodactyl named Quetzalcoatlus !

    A mock up was suspended from the ceiling of the lecture hall…breath taking does not cover the emotion as we all filed in…it was ‘effing ginormous yet weighed probably as much as average man!

    Apparently it used to glide low over the sea surface and use its lower mandible as a scoop collecting fish basking near the surface…silent death the lecturer said !

    Always think of that 1 1/2 hr of sheer unadulterated fascination when I read about palaeontology !
    I regret not being introduced to the subject sooner.

  4. In reply to #2 by Jos Gibbons:

    Does “30 % larger” mean by length or by volume?

    The Guardian article on the same things claims 3.4m high at the hump. Random search on google suggests camels get to about 2.1m at the hump these days.


  5. I am an avid fan of science and new discoveries, but the bone fragmants are so small and inadequate, how can they really say it was a giant camel and give figures like “30% larger” when they only have a few slivers? Not denying the science, just remaining ever skeptical. Perhaps someone can better describe how they could get so much information from such little evidence…?

  6. Amazing animal with a tremendous adaptive efficiency, and a great servant to our specie not only provided meat and being a robust transport method, the camels also being used as a currency to purchase wives by present and recent Bedouins.

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