Archive for the ‘Pleistocene Mammals’ Category

Pigloos

March 30, 2022

Wild boars (Sus scrofa) are an amazing adaptable Pleistocene survivor. Their fierce disposition and large litter sizes enabled them to survive predation from wolves, lions, and humans during the Pleistocene, and even today modern human hunters, sometimes armed with machine guns, have trouble putting a dent in their populations. They eat just about anything, and they can live in most climates. Wild boar remains, dating to the Pleistocene, have been found in at least 109 fossil sites located in Israel, Morocco, Libya, Greece, Monaco, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, the Czeck Republic, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Some populations of wild boar were domesticated 5,000 years ago, and their descendants are modern day pigs–source of the pork chops, ribs, and bacon stocked by supermarkets. European settlers brought pigs to the Americas 500 years ago and let them forage in the woods where many escaped and went wild. 100 years ago, hunters introduced wild boars to the Appalachians, and they promptly interbred with existing wild pig populations, creating a kind of super hog that game managers have difficulty controlling. Pure bred wild boars wouldn’t be unmanageable, but domesticated pigs have been bred to produce exceptionally large litters, and the combination of tough wild boar with pigs that produce super-sized litters has overwhelmed many areas.

Wild boars have been abundant for over a million years.

Hunters recently introduced wild boars to Canada, resulting in the same situation found in parts of the U.S. and South America. Their ability to adapt to frigid Canadian climates surprised researchers. During winter these intelligent animals build houses constructed of cattail reeds near marshes. Snow and ice cover the houses, giving them the appearance of an igloo, and accordingly they are called pigloos. The pigs burrow into their pigloos, and the reeds covered in snow insulate the pigs and help keep their body heat inside the structures. Canadians need to increase the wolf population, so they can huff and puff and blow the pig houses down. Unfortunately, this would face too much opposition from hunters and ranchers.

Wild boars are spreading throughout Canada. They can live in colder climates because they build nests out of cattail plants known as pigloos. The well insulated nests are kept warm by the beast’s own body heat.

Some Pleistocene Megafauna may have Survived in the Yukon until the Mid-Holocene

February 3, 2022

One of the first entries I wrote for this blog over 10 years ago highlighted a study of seda-DNA (short for sediment DNA) from cores taken in Alaskan permafrost. Permafrost preserves DNA of local animals that were shedding hairs, urinating, and defecating on the landscape. Different levels of the core were radio-carbon-dated, and scientists came to a surprising conclusion–mammoths and horses survived thousands of years after the youngest known sub-fossil evidence. Mammoths lived on mainland Alaska until 9700 years BP, and horses survived there until 7000 years ago. Recently, some of the same scientists conducted a similar study in the Klondike region of the Yukon, and they came to a similar conclusion. This study of 4 sites in the region was more extensive and also kept track of plant DNA, so changes in the environment could be detected. Apparently, mammoth, horses, and bison persisted in small refugial populations in the region thousands of years after the youngest known dated specimens in the paleontological record. They call this a temporal ghost range. They detected a DNA signal of these extinct and extirpated species from 9200 years BP to 5700 years BP, while paleontological evidence indicated they had disappeared from the region ~12,000 years ago. The authors of this study concede older sediment could have mixed with younger sediment, causing a mistaken observation, but they think this is unlikely because the samples were the same from 21 different cores taken from 3 different sites, and changes in plant composition were consistent with what they expected from unmixed sediment.

Chart showing temporal abundance of megafauna and shifts in climate. From the below reference.
Chart showing abundance of seda-DNA of plants and animals from 4 permafrost core sites in the Yukon. Most species of megafauna were more abundant when grassy steppe was widespread, but they seem to have still occurred in refugial populations long after the shift from grassy steppe to more mesic shrub and forest habitat. Also from the below reference.

Scientists hoped the study could shed light on why the grassy steppe ecosystem of the Late Pleistocene collapsed. There are 2 schools of thought. Dr. Guthrie believes increased precipitation and cloud cover brought on by climate change changed the environment from grassy steppe to mesic peat marsh, willow scrub, and spruce forest; thus, depriving grass-eating animals of their primary food source and causing their extinction or extirpation. Dr. Zimov believes the disappearance of the megafauna itself caused the transformation of the landscape. He thinks herds of large animals trampling, grazing, and defecating suppressed woody growth and maintained the grasslands. Humans overhunted megafauna into extinction in this scenario.

Data from this study can be used to support both arguments. The biggest decline in mammoth populations occurred about 20,000 years ago–long before the transformation of the mammoth steppe into present day environments. There is ephemeral archaeological evidence of people in North America then, and they might have started reducing mammoth herds. Also, mammoths, horses and bison declined about the same time Homo sapiens became more common. However, the final significant decline in megafauna populations did occur when the grassy mammoth steppe was in transition to a landscape dominated by woody vegetation.

I’ve long been convinced humans are completely responsible for the extinction of most, if not all, Pleistocene megafauna, even in this remote region. I think populations of grazing megafauna did decline in this region due to changes in climate. But grassy environments never completely disappeared, and in some areas these refuges were still capable of supporting smaller populations of grazers which did maintain small grasslands with their activities. These refugial populations could have expanded to repopulate the region given favorable changes in climate, like those that occurred periodically throughout the Pleistocene. However, man wiped out these interglacial refugial populations of mammoths, bison, and horses. If not for man, I think there still would be local populations of these species in the region, but they just wouldn’t be as abundant as they were during Ice Ages. They were not picky feeders and could subsist on some woody vegetation. Incidentally, there is fossil evidence of steppe bison (Bison antiquus) from central Canada (not exactly in the region but not on the other side of the continent either), dating to the mid-Holocene. See:

Reference:

Murchie, T. et. al.

“Collapse of the Mammoth Steppe in Central Yukon as Revealed by Ancient Environmental DNA”

Nature Communications Dec 2021

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-27439-6

Wolves and Spotted Hyenas Competed for Prey on the British Isles during Interstadials

December 16, 2021

Today, timber wolves (Canis lupus) and spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) do not have overlapping ranges, but during the Pleistocene they co-existed throughout much of Eurasia. A recent study of bone chemistry from specimens of wolves and hyenas from 3 fossil sites located in southwestern England suggests they competed for the same prey items. Fossils from these 3 sites date to 3 different interglacial and interstadial climate phases. The oldest site yields fossils dating from between 220,000 years BP to 190,000 years BP. This was a warm interglacial, and grasslands were thought to be widespread here then. Fossil specimens from this site include elk, wild boar, mountain hare, lion, wolf, hyena, red fox, and cat. Wolves and hyenas primarily ate horse and hare during this time period. The 2nd oldest site yields fossils dating from 90,000 years BP to 80,000 years BP–an interstadial during the early Wisconsinian Ice Age when average temperatures temporarily reversed back to more temperate conditions. Fossils found at this site include bison, caribou, red fox, arctic fox, wolverine, brown bear, and wolf. Wolves primarily ate bison and caribou during this climate phase. The 3rd site yields fossils dating from 60,000 years BP to 25,000 years BP, a phase of rapidly fluctuating climates bouncing back and forth from cold stadial to warm interstadial. Fossils from this site include horse, wooly mammoth, wooly rhino, bison, caribou, hyena, wolf, hare, and elk. Wolves and hyenas primarily ate horse, rhino, and bison during this phase. Spotted hyenas disappeared from the British Isles during the Last Glacial Maximum when most of it was covered in glacial ice. Wolves persisted on the islands until man wiped them out during the 1700s.

Comparison between timber wolf and spotted hyena. Today, their ranges do not overlap, but they did occur together throughout Eurasia during the Pleistocene. They likely competed for the same prey items. Pleistocene hyenas outweighed wolves by about 50 pounds on average. I ripped this image off google images.
Map of fossil sites where wolf and hyena specimens used in the below referenced study were excavated. Image from the below referenced study.

Although I have no doubt wolves did compete with spotted hyenas during the Pleistocene, I am highly skeptical analysis of bone chemistry can accurately determine the former diets of these ancient animals. The limited sample size of fossil specimens may not reflect the diet of the entire population. Moreover, a study of moa coprolites from New Zealand determined the results of an isotope analysis did not match the contents of moa coprolites actually found. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/trust-the-coprolites-not-the-stable-isotope-analysis/ ) In my opinion this study debunks the results of all studies using stable isotope analysis to determine the diets of ancient animals. The only sure way of knowing what an animal ate is to analyze the contents of their fossilized feces. I consider the bone chemistry studies to be interesting speculation but little better than wild guessing.

Reference:

Flower, L; D. Schreve and A. Lamb

“Nature of the Beast? Complex Drivers of Prey Choice, Competition, and Resilience in Pleistocene Wolves (Canis lupus 1754)

Quaternary Science Review 272 November 2021

New Species of Miocene Saber-tooth Recognized (Machairodus lahayishupup)

November 5, 2021

Scientists recently recognized a new species of saber-tooth cat from specimens found in museum collections. Specimens of this species were originally excavated from sites in Texas, Idaho, California, and Oregon. Although only 7 specimens of this species are known to science, scientists were able to diagnose it as a new species based on the dimensions of the arm bones. Skulls and fangs have yet to be found, and all we know about it comes from arm and jaw bones. Scientist gave the species the unpronounceable scientific name of Machairodus lahayishupup. One of the specimens was found on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the scientists decided to honor the Indians by giving it the name lahayishupup, meaning ancient cat in the Cayuse Indian language. I say thumbs down for giving it such an unpronounceable name.

Artist’s rendition of the newly recognized species of Miocene saber-tooth. This artist forgot to draw the fangs.
Fossilized arm bone of the Miocene saber-tooth.
Fossilized jaw bone of the Miocene saber-tooth. Skulls and fangs of this species have not been discovered yet.

Scientists believe the species lived from 9 million years BP to 5.5 million years BP during the late Miocene. Individuals averaged 600 pounds and may have reached weights of 900 pounds. Potential prey species in North America included rhinos, horses, tapirs, camels, and giant ground sloths. It was likely an ambush predator that lived in semi-tropical woodlands. Most of North America was semi-tropical then. At the time similar species occurred in Eurasia and Africa. This species may have been ancestral or related to the ancestor of the well known Smilodon fatalis and the lesser known Homotherium latidens both of the late Pleistocene.

Reference:

Orcutt, J. and J. Calede

“Quantitative Analysis of Feliform Humeri Reveal the Existence of a Very Large Cat in North America during the Miocene”

Journal of Mammalian Evolution (28) 2021

How Long did it Take Humans to Wipe Out American Megafauna?

October 15, 2021

20 years ago, a computer simulation determined low levels of human hunting could cause the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna within a 1,640 year time frame. This simulation has held up well since the results were first published. A recent study of sedimentary data from Lake Llaviucu, Ecuador determined most of the megafauna in this region became extirpated 1,800 years after humans first entered the area. 1,800 years is remarkably close to 1,640 years. Another study, this one of a site in Patagonia, determined megafauna were extirpated in that region between 1000-2000 years after first human contact–also remarkably close to the computer simulation.

Locations of the data obtained for the below referenced study. Scientists dredged cores of sediment from beneath Lakes Llaviucu and Palicacocha in Ecuador. They used pollen composition, charcoal abundance, and dung fungus spore concentrations to determine the presence of humans, not environmental change, caused the extirpation of megafauna in this region. Image from the below referenced study by Raczka et. al.
Graph showing pollen composition, charcoal abundance, and dung fungus (sporomiella) concentrations. Dung fungus abundance is a proxy for the presence of megafauna; charcoal concentrations are a proxy for human presence because people set fires. People were present, but the environment did not change. It was a paramo grassland before people entered the region, and it still was a paramo grassland when megafauna became extinct in this region. Image also from the below referenced study by Raczka et. al.
Lake Llaviucu in Ecuador along with a llama. A glacial moraine dams a stream, thus creating this lake. Photo from Travel Ecuador.
A paramo grassland. Photo from the Missouri Botanical Garden. This region has been a paramo grassland for 16,000 years. Megafauna became extinct here about 12,800 years ago…1800 years after humans colonized the region. There was no change in the environment.

Scientists analyzed the pollen composition, charcoal concentration, and dung fungus spore concentration from a sedimentary core taken at Lake Llaviucu. The pollen composition provides information about the local environment. The area was under a glacier until ~18,000 years ago. After the glacier receded it was replaced by paramo grassland, an environment dominated by tussock grasses, rosette plants, and evergreen shrubs. Tropical cloud forests occur at lower elevations and plants from this environment contribute to the pollen rain. Charcoal concentrations are used as a proxy for human presence. Lightning strikes, a natural cause of fires, are extremely rare at this locality, so charcoal most likely came from human-set fires. Charcoal became common at this site about 14,600 years ago. Dung fungus spore abundance is a proxy for megafauna populations. Dung fungus declined in abundance 12,800 years ago. This is when populations of stegomastodons, horses, and ground sloths likely disappeared from the region. The core taken from this lake was 36 feet long and radiocarbon dates ranged from 16,200 years BP at the lowest part of the core to 9,000 years BP at the highest. The finding is consistent with similar studies at other sites in the Americas.

Lake Llaviucu is located in El Cajas National Park. Though most of the megafauna is gone, there are still some species of large mammals left here including llamas, mountain tapir, deer, spectacled bear, and cougar. The park is also home to 157 species of birds, and it is the Andean condor’s last stand. I’d love to visit the paramo grasslands and tropical cloud forests, but alas it is too far away.

Reference:

Alroy, John

“A Multi-Species Overkill Simulation of the End Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction”

Science 292 (5523) 2001

Raczka, M. et. al.

“A Human Role in Andean Megafaunal Extinction?”

Quaternary Science Review 205 2019

Grayson’s and Meltzer’s Case Against Overkill would get Thrown out of a Court of Law for Perjury

I was listening to National Public Radio the other day, and they were interviewing a paleontologist who was excavating the bones of extinct Pleistocene megafauna. I didn’t catch his name or the name of the fossil site, but he was certain overhunting by humans caused the extinctions. For balance they also interviewed Meltzer, an archaeologists from SMU, who believes environmental change, not humans, caused the extinctions. About 20 years ago, he co-authored a series of illogical papers with Donald Grayson, an anthropologist, in an attempt to debunk the theory that man caused the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna. They are both a couple of dishonest shmucks. They are not paleo-ecologists. They are an archaeologist and an anthropologist. They know nothing about paleo-ecology. On the radio Meltzer simply repeated the same illogical arguments he made 20 years ago, and he ignored the overwhelming number studies that have since been published in support of an human role for the extinctions. A few years ago, Grayson published a book with a chapter about extinctions. He deliberately misrepresented the findings of a paper that ruled out environmental change as a cause of megafaunal extinctions. He suggested the results were the opposite of what the authors of the study concluded. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/donald-graysons-disingenous-case-against-overkill/ ) In a court of law a judge will throw out a case, if a witness perjures himself. Grayson’s and Meltzer’s case against overkill would get thrown out for perjury. Incidentally, I informed Grayson of the above linked article. He refused to respond.

Cougars (Puma concolor) Control Feral Horse (Equus caballus) Populations in Some Environments

September 3, 2021
Photo of Cougar feeding on a horse from The Wildlife Society

President Teddy Roosevelt called the cougar that “horse-killing cowardly cat.” Though Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive President for his time, I think some of his opinions and attitudes were highly distasteful. He was a war monger and a sadist. He went on a safari to Africa and slaughtered thousands of animals, using the excuse that he was sending specimens back to an American museum. Cougars kill for food, but Roosevelt was slaughtering thousands of animals from a distance with an high-powered rifle under the false guise of obtaining scientific information. I think he did it because he enjoyed being a bloodthirsty killer. I respect the bravery of a cougar far more than anything Roosevelt ever did as an outdoorsman. Cougars are 1 of the few solitary carnivores that regularly attack prey larger than themselves.

There is no doubt cougars kill horses, but Steve Rinella, a Trumpanzee with an hunting and fishing show on the Outdoor Network, disputed a New York Times column written by Dave Phillipps, suggesting cougars could control feral horse populations. Phillips refused to appear on Rinella’s podcast, and Rinella seemed to relish how another expert had proven the author of the column wrong. He’s not wrong. A recent study determined cougars could control feral horse populations in sagebrush environments. Scientists studied 21 radio-collared cougars–13 in the Great Basin region of Nevada and 8 on the Sierra Nevada range. They counted 820 predation events and learned that in the Great Basin region horses made up 60% of the cougars’ diet while mule deer just made up 29% of their diet. On the Sierra Nevada range, mule deer made up 91% of their diet. Cougars hunted horses in sagebrush environments quite often, but rarely in mountain environments. In the Great Basin individual cougars killed an horse about once every 2.5 weeks. Another study looked at cougar prey on the Pryor Mountains. Here, cougars killed no horses and their primary prey was mule deer, though bighorn sheep made up 9% of their prey. 1 individual female cougar specialized in preying upon bighorn sheep, but most cougars preferred deer. I think horses are not an important part of the cougar diet in the Pryor Mountains because there are less than 200 of them there, and they are located in an area with no cougars.

Of course, cougars hunt horses. During the Pleistocene cougars co-existed with horses over the span of 2 continents for hundreds of thousands of years. I’m sure there were certain ancient environments where horses were the most available prey species. Horses are well adapted to arid grasslands, and during the Pleistocene were more common than deer in this type of environment. Cougars would have been competing with dire wolves, giant lions, and saber-tooths in open areas, and they likely were more common in woodlands or forest edges. But they may have held their own in some locations where horses and competing carnivores were abundant, depending upon ecological conditions. Incidentally, the Pleistocene cougars that lived in North America were not directly ancestral to cougars that live on this continent now. They were an extinct ecomorph that grew slightly larger than modern cougars and may have had spotted fur. According to genetic evidence, all modern North American cougars descend from a population originating in eastern South America about 10,000 years ago. Strange as it may seem, this population completely replaced the Pleistocene ecomorph.

Horses originated in North America and lived here for millions of years, until man wiped them out. People who claim feral horses harm the environment are full of shit. Horses make trails, defecate all over the place, and graze down vegetation…just like they did for millions of years. Horses recolonized North America, and this recolonization is no different from when wildlife managers re-introduce endangered species to lands where they had previously disappeared. There are only about 83,000 feral horses in North America today compared to tens of millions of cattle, yet cattle ranchers and do-gooder environmentalists would dishonestly lead people to believe horses are the problem, not the cattle. I call bullshit.

References:

Blake, L.

“Foraging Ecology of Cougars on the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming and Montana”

Utah State Graduate Thesis 2014

Andreason, A.; K. Stewart, W. Longled, J. Berkman

“Prey Specialization in Cougars on Feral Horses in a Desert Environment”

Journal of Wildlife Management July 2021

My Pleistocene Mammal Checklist of East Central Georgia 36,000 Years BP Revised

August 13, 2021

8 years ago, I wrote a blog entry listing the exact species of mammals I thought probably lived in east central Georgia 36,000 years ago. I chose this time because it was the most recent period when climate was similar to today’s climate, coinciding with the last time when man was probably absent. I wondered what mammals would live in an environment untouched by man but with a similar climate. My list was an educated guess because there is only 1 Pleistocene-aged fossil site in this region, though there are some to the immediate north, south, and east. This time period was an interstadial–a warm wet period between colder drier Ice Ages. Pollen evidence suggests oak tree populations expanded. So I assumed the ecosystem was a mix of open oak woodlands, some grasslands, wetlands, and relict arid scrub environments persisting from the previous stadial. Since I wrote this blog, new information has come to light, and my list needs to be revised. Before I started to write this, I didn’t realize I had already edited some of the changes into my original article. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/if-i-could-live-during-the-pleistocene-part-xii-my-mammal-checklist/ )

The 9-banded armadillo is an addition to my list. 9-banded armadillos have recently recolonized the region, but until a few years back scientists didn’t realize this species had also lived in southeastern North America during the Pleistocene. Their fossils had been confused with those of the beautiful armadillo, a different extinct species that was about twice as big. But analysis of genetic material shows that both co-existed over the same range.

On my original list I put question marks next to species that I was unsure lived in the region during this time period. Fox squirrels are 1 that should have a question mark next to it. There is no evidence in the Florida fossil record of fox squirrels until very late during the Pleistocene ~12,000 years BP. However, fox squirrel remains have been found in a Georgia cave that date to the LGM ~21,000 years ago. They may be a late invader of southeastern North America, but on the other hand they could just have been local in distribution and perchance never left remains in fossil sites. By contrast gray squirrels are commonly found in regional fossil sites. Perhaps east central Georgia was an area where fox squirrels occurred 36,000 years ago and from where they expanded into the rest of the south, but the dearth of fossil sites explains why this is unknown.

On my original checklist I included 2 species of horses, but it seems likely there was only 1–Equus caballus. Fossils of the pseudo-asses that date to the late Pleistocene are restricted to the west. The pseudo-asses did occur in southeastern North America during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene, but by 36,000 years ago they were not living in the region.

I included elk on my original checklist, but genetic evidence suggests this species did not colonize North America until about 15,000 years ago. No radiometrically dated remains of elk on the continent prior to that date have ever been found. Unless there was an extinct lineage of elk ranging here, I don’t think they lived in the region. White-tailed deer were likely the most common species of deer in the region then, just like today. However, I do believe woodland caribou and the extinct stag-moose did occasionally range into the region. Fossil remains of both species have been found at this latitude. They were probably more common in the region during Ice Ages, but I think it seems likely a few stragglers did wander into the region during interstadials. After all, this was unchecked wilderness. Some caribou herds likely migrated haphazardly, and sometimes they wandered into the region.

I think herds of caribou wandered into east central Georgia even during interstadials.

Scientists identify the remains of a medium-sized canid as coyote from fossil sites that are known to date throughout the late Pleistocene. However, genetic evidence suggests coyotes diverged from the population of gray wolves that crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America just 20,000 years ago. So what were these coyote-like canids? I think they are an unnamed extinct species anatomically difficult to discern from modern day coyotes. This species likely played a similar ecological role. On my list Canis latrans should be changed to unnamed extinct canid.

Dire wolves and jaguars were likely the most common large predators in the region. Giant lions and saber-tooths may have existed in low numbers here. The former were more common in the more open grasslands to the south of the region. But I think bears were by far the most common carnivores. If a person could travel back in time and take a walk in the woods of this region, it would be impossible not to run into a bear. Bears are omnivores and can breed and reproduce even when there are low populations of other large mammals. Grizzly-sized black bears, Florida spectacled bears, and giant short-faced bears all roamed the region then.

I still think most of the other famous Pleistocene megafauna occurred in the region, but some may have been transitory. I think Jefferson’s ground sloth and Harlan’s ground sloth were year round residents as were stout-legged llamas and long-nosed peccaries. Herds of long-horned bison roamed around looking for fresh pasture. Mammoths possibly passed through during annual migrations. And mastodons moved up and down the river valley bottoms.

Horn Size Comparison Between Bubalus arnee and Bison latifrons

July 16, 2021

Some species of extant megafauna demonstrate how impressive similar extinct species were. Asian water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) weigh up to 2600 pounds, and their horn span averages 3 feet long. The individual in the below photo has an horn span of about double the size of the average. The largest known horn span of an Asian water buffalo was from a specimen shot in 1955–it had an astounding horn span of 13 feet 10 inches. The extinct long-horned bison (Bison latfrons) had horn spans up to 7 feet long, but it seems likely the largest individuals had horn spans even longer than the record specimen of Asian water buffalo shot during 1955. Long-horned bison are estimated to have reached weights between 2700-4400 pounds–significantly heavier than Asian water buffalo–and if these estimates are accurate, some individuals probably had horn spans exceeding 14 feet long.

Asian water buffalo (Bubalus arnee). Their horn span averages 3 feet, but this animal has an horn span that is close to twice that long. I found this photo on Twitter. I don’t know who took it.
I took this photo of a Bison latifrons specimen at the Georgia College Museum in Milledgeville, Georgia. This specimen was found near Brunswick, Georgia and dates to 24,000 years ago. This species evolved into Bison antiquus during the Last Glacial Maximum. B. antiquus evolved into modern Bison (B. bison) after the end of the last Ice Age.

The Asian water buffalo has been classified as endangered since 1986. There are only 4000 left. They are found in small herds in 8 protected areas in India, 1 in Nepal, 1 in Bhutan, 1 in Thailand, and 1 in Cambodia. They are thought by many to be the ancestors of domesticated water buffalo, an animal used for pulling plows before the era of mechanization. Asian water buffalo prefer to live in swamps and marshes, and their hooves are wide and don’t sink in muddy ground, giving them superior performance in farm labor compared to a plain old ox. They also produce a richer milk than cows, and cheese-makers use their milk to make Mozzarella. Domesticated water buffalo have escaped from captivity in Australia, parts of Asia, Argentina, and Bolivia where they thrive on grass, sedges, fruit, bark, and twigs in wetlands. A species of European water buffalo became extinct about 10,000 years ago.

The ancestor of the long-horned bison crossed the Bering Land Bridge and colonized North America a little less than 300,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age. They inhabited open woodland and prairie. Their long horns were a defense against big cats such as saber-tooths, giant lions, and jaguars (just like water buffalos use their horns to fend off tigers and lions). During the Last Glacial Maximum ((~21,000 years BP-~15,000 years BP) long-horned bison evolved into a smaller animal with shorter horns known as B. antiquus. This was likely in response to reduced quality of food and water sources. Following the arrival of man in North America, B. antiquus evolved into the even smaller but more mobile and migratory modern bison (B. bison). Instead of long horns and large bodies to battle big cats, bison needed longer legs, so they could run away from wolf packs and man.

Arthritic Glyptodonts

July 9, 2021

I am lucky so far. I am 59 years old and don’t feel arthritic yet, but my father was about my age when he first suffered from arthritis. The incurable disease forced him to give up playing tennis because his hand hurt too much when he tried to return a shot. About 50 million adults and 300,000 children suffer from arthritis. There are over 100 types of arthritis. The 4 most common include degenerative, infectious, inflammatory, and metabolic. Degenerative arthritis is caused by cartilage wearing away so that 2 different bones rub against each other at the joint. Bacteria cause infectious arthritis, and inflammatory arthritis is the result of the immune system turning against itself following an infection. Metabolic arthritis is caused by uric acid build up. This is the kind my dad had, and he also used to suffer terrible attacks of gout–a related condition.

Man isn’t the only animal that suffers from arthritis. Other primates, elephants, bears, and extinct ground sloths are known to be susceptible to the disease. Paleontologists examining bones of extinct glyptodonts found evidence of arthritic joints. Glyptodonts are related to armadillos. A recent genetic study found their closest living relative was the tiny pink fairy armadillo–an ironic discovery because fairy armadillos are so small, and glyptodonts weighed several tons. However, glyptodonts diverged from armadillos about 35 million years ago. The main difference between armadillos and glyptodonts is the shell. Armadillo shells in most species are flexible, and they can curl up in a ball when threatened. Glyptodonts had stiff turtle-like shells. The arthritic glyptodont bones were found in a limestone cave near Lajeda de Ecole, Brazil. Glyptodonts ranged throughout South America and into the southern parts of North America including coastal Georgia. The arthritic glyptodont specimen found in Brazil suffered from calcium pyrophosphate disease, a complication of spondyloarthropy. This disease is known as false gout because it is similar to gout, though the physiological cause differs. The specimen’s arthritis was in its arm and leg joints.

3 different species of glyptodonts compared to an average-sized man. I found this image on google. I don’t know who the original creator was.
Glyptodont joints with arthritis. Image from the below referenced paper.

Arthritic glyptodonts may have been more vulnerable to predators. When attacked, glyptodonts quickly turned around and swung their tails which in some species were clubbed. A glyptodont slowed by arthritis may have been too sluggish to swing their tail in time. Scientists found 1 specimen of arthritic glyptodont with gnaw marks from an extinct dog known as Protocyon trogylodytes. This predator may have killed the aged glyptodont or perhaps it scavenged an animal that died of old age.

References:

Aurauj-Junior, H. ; et. al.

“Overlapping Paleoinchnology, Paleoecology, and Taphonomy: Analysis of Tooth Traces in Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene Megafaunal Assemblage of Brazil and Description of New Ichnology in Hard Substrate”

Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, and Paleoecology 468 2017

Barbosa, F. ; et. al.

“Arthritis in a Glyptodont (Mammalia, Xenartha, Cintulata)”

Plos One Feb 2014

Pleistocene Megaherbivores of India

March 25, 2021

388 species of land mammals occur in India today, including 15 species of flying squirrels, 20 species of bovids, 18 species of deer, 16 species of cats, 19 species of monkeys, and 3 species of apes.  The diversity of habitats in India from high mountains to desert plains with subtropical forests and mangrove swamps in between supports this great variety of mammals.  Africa has 1100 land and marine species of mammals and Pleistocene North America had 540, but they are whole continents.  India is just a subcontinent.  Compared to North America but like Africa, India didn’t suffer many late Pleistocene extinctions.  However, there were a few notable species that became extinct or extirpated in India.

Gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelades) today are restricted to the Ethiopian Highlands, but fossil evidence from the Billasugrun Cave Complex showed they formerly ranged into India.  Ostriches also formerly extended their range into India during the Pleistocene, but no longer occur there.

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Gelada baboons are restricted to the Ethiopian Highlands today, but during the Pleistocene their range extended into India.

Today, Asiatic elephants still live in India, but during the Pleistocene 2 additional species of elephants occurred in India–the Asian straight-tusked elephant (Paleoloxodon namadicus) and stegodon (Stegodon namadicus).  The former may have been the largest land mammal to ever live on earth.  Both species went extinct about 30,000 years ago when men began using projectile weapons.

Palaeoloxodon namadicus is a prehistoric straight-tusked elephant that ranged through Pleistocene Asia, fro… | Prehistoric animals, Extinct animals, Ancient animals

Scientists think the Asian straight-tusked elephant may have been the largest land mammal ever.  It became extinct in India soon after humans began using projectile weapons ~30,000 years ago.

What are the differences between Stegodon and Palaeoloxodon? - Quora

Stegodon namadicus.  The fossil record suggests it was formerly more abundant than the Asiatic elephant.  It too became extinct about the time man began using projectile weapons.

The pygmy hippo (Hexaprotodon) lasted in India until about 16,000 years ago.  There still is plenty of available habitat for pygmy hippos in India today, so man must be responsible for the disappearance of this species.  An horse (Equus namadicus) became extinct in India.  I can’t find much about this species, and I think it may have been the same species as the modern horse.  The wild ancestor of modern cattle (Bos namadicus) also vanished from India during the late Pleistocene, but its domesticated descendants are extremely abundant now.

File:Hexaprotodon.liberiensis-ZOO.Jihlava1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

African pygmy hippo.  A species of pygmy hippo lasted in India until about 16,000 years ago when humans wiped them out.

Gaur - Description, Habitat, Image, Diet, and Interesting Facts

The gaur along with Asiatic elephants and Indian rhinos are still extant but endangered in India.

Scientists hypothesize India suffered fewer end Pleistocene extinctions than elsewhere because the animals there slowly co-evolved with man and learned to be wary of us.  They think this allowed for a robust population network in climatic refugia that could then rebound following local extirpations.  While this might be partially true, I have a different hypothesis.  I propose that in India (and Africa) tropical diseases and tribal warfare kept human populations relatively low.  Large tracts of land remained uninhabited for centuries.  These were the refugia that allowed animal populations to rebound and replenish regions with diminished or extirpated populations.  The Hindu religion’s reverence for life originated at least 6300 years ago and may be an additional factor in the persistence of abundant wildlife on the Indian subcontinent.  When India’s population of humans eventually did increase, the Hindu religion prevented the wonton slaughter of wildlife that plagued other regions such as China where tigers and elephants have been wiped out.

References:

Jukar, A.; S. Lyons, P. Wagner, M. Uhen

“Late Pleistocene Extinctions in the Indian Subcontinent”

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 562 (15) 2020

Roberts, P.; et. al.

“Continuity of Mammalian Fauna over the Last 200,000 Years in the Indian Subcontinent”

PNAS 111 (16) 2014