There is a scientific explanation for the woolly mammoths’ huge fur. The thick coat of fur helped them survive in the cold climate of the last Ice Age. The fur was made up of an outer layer of long, coarse hair and an inner layer of fine, woolly fur. This combination provided excellent insulation against the cold, protecting the mammoths from freezing temperatures.
The fur was also water-repellent, helping to keep the mammoths dry in wet conditions. Additionally, the fur provided camouflage in the snowy environment, helping to protect the mammoths from predators.
However, it might come as a surprise to many that woolly mammoths weren’t always covered in their well-known fur, as a new study reveals.
Several iconic features of woolly mammoths weren’t always there
According to Live Science, scientists have discovered that the iconic features of woolly mammoths, including their shaggy fur, small ears, and large fat deposits, evolved over the course of their existence of more than 700,000 years. Researchers compared the genomes of 23 woolly mammoths to those of modern-day Asian and African elephants, finding that the defining traits of the species were present when they diverged from their ancestors, such as the steppe mammoth. Additionally, the study found that woolly mammoths evolved to have dry earwax and a reduction in body odor.
Díez del Molino, a paleontologist who is also the lead author of the new study, explained:
We found some highly evolved genes related to fat metabolism and storage that are also found in other Arctic species like reindeer and polar bears, which means there’s probably convergent evolution for these genes in cold-adapted mammals.
Woolly mammoths lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, which began around 2.6 million years ago. They roamed across Europe, Asia, and North America during this time.
Woolly mammoths were typically larger than modern-day elephants, with an average height of around 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 meters) at the shoulder, and an estimated weight of up to 6 metric tons. In comparison, African elephants typically stand between 8 and 13 feet (2.4 to 4 meters) tall at the shoulder, and weigh up to 6 metric tons.
The new study was published in Current Biology.
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