Elasmotherium Sibiricum: Characteristics, Habitat, Reproduction, Fossils

Elasmotherium sibiricum was a mammal that existed during the Pleistocene epoch in the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic Era. It is considered an ancestor of the current rhinoceros, since due to its characteristics it is included in the same family as this, the Rhinocerotidae.

This animal was first described in 1808 by the German paleontologist Johann Fisher. His characteristic element was a striking horn that he had on the front of his head, which inevitably makes one think of the famous unicorns.

Fossils of this animal, which was part of the megafauna that dominated the terrestrial landscape during the Pleistocene and Holocene, have been found mainly in the region known as Kazakhstan, as well as in the area of ​​Siberia.

The dating of the most recent fossils has established that Elasmotherium sibiricum was able to share space with modern man.

characteristics

Elasmotherium sibiricum was an animal that, as a member of the animal kingdom, was considered a eukaryotic organism. In these organisms, DNA is packaged within the cell nucleus, making up the chromosomes. Likewise, these animals had a wide variety of cells, each with specific functions.

From the point of view of embryology, these animals were triblastic and coelominated. This means that their tissues and organs originated from the three germ layers known as endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm. Likewise, it had an internal cavity called a coelom.

This ancestor of rhinos was herbivorous and fed mainly on the grass that was abundant in its habitat. Their reproduction was sexual, with internal fertilization and direct development, as well as oviparous .

It was a calm and gentle animal that only lashed out at another animal only and exclusively when it felt any threat against it. In the following video a reconstruction of what this animal would look like has been made:

Taxonomy

The taxonomic classification of Elasmotherium sibiricum is as follows:

-Domain: Eukarya

-Animalia Kingdom

-Filo: Chordata

-Class: Mammalia

-Order: Perissodactyla

-Family: Rhinocerotidae

-Subfamily: Rhinocerotinae

-Tribe: Elasmotheriini

-Gender: Elasmotherium

-Species: Elasmotherium sibiricum.

Morphology

One of the main characteristics of this animal was its large size. It could measure about 2 meters high and about 6 meters long, in addition to weighing approximately 4 tons.

His body was adapted to survive extreme cold, with a thick layer of hair that covered him in its entirety, as well as a layer of fatty tissue that helped him keep his internal body temperature constant.

Its distinctive element was a striking horn that emerged from the front of its skull. This horn, which could measure up to 2 meters long, was made of keratin and was oriented forward.

It was quadruped, which implies that it had four limbs, which were quite robust and strong. These had to be like that to be able to sustain that great animal.

Habitat and distribution

The Elasmotherium sibiricum was an animal that lived mainly in the central areas of the Asian continent and in the steppes of Russia. More specifically, it has been argued that this animal lived in the region that stretches between the Don River to the east, of what is now known as Kazakhstan.

However, recent findings have made it possible to expand that territory towards the part of Siberia, where it is believed that this animal took refuge and lived the last times of its existence coexisting even with Homo sapiens .

In this sense, the fossils that have been found in this area have established that this animal lived for much longer than was stipulated.

Likewise, this was an animal that was perfectly adapted to the climatic conditions that prevailed in these regions. It is important to note that the weather in them can be inclement, with very low temperatures.

This is why this animal had certain characteristics that allowed it to live comfortably in that environment, such as the thick layer of hair that covered its body.

Feeding

The Elasmotherium was a heterotrophic organism, which means it was not able to synthesize their own nutrients. Because of this, it fed on other living things such as plants.

Diet

This animal is considered to be herbivorous, like the other members of the Rhinocerotidae family. The time when this animal walked the Earth was characterized by the great biodiversity of plants that existed in the different ecosystems. Thanks to this, these types of animals had a wide availability of food at their disposal.

Of all the plants in the ecosystem in which this animal developed, its favorite food was grass. The characteristics of its teeth did not allow it to feed on other types of plants that deserved a teeth that would allow the tearing of food.

The collected fossils of this animal make it possible to determine that its teeth were flat and very large, typical of grazing herbivorous animals. In addition, this animal lacked incisors, teeth specialized in tearing food.

The morphology of this animal was adapted for these eating habits. For example, his lips were thick enough to be able to pluck grass. His teeth, as has been said, were flat and had an approximate length of about 22 centimeters, in addition to being made up of several layers. Likewise, the position of its head seems to confirm that the animal fed on plants of short length, such as grass.

Digestion

Once the animal ingested the grass, with the help of its specialized teeth, it was able to crush it to a great extent. In the oral cavity, the ground food also came into contact with digestive enzymes in the animal’s saliva. These enzymes began the breakdown of nutrients.

Later, the food bolus passed through the esophagus into the stomach, where it was again subjected to the action of other enzymes found in gastric juices. Then, the food passed to the intestine which was where the absorption had to take place.

Now, the members of the Rhinocerotidae family belong to the group of so-called large intestine fermenters. This means that in the colon of these animals there are a wide variety of bacteria that contribute to the processing and metabolism of certain compounds found in plants.

These bacteria helped process the food so that the most nutrients could be absorbed. Once the nutrients were absorbed, the remainder was released as feces through the anus.

Reproduction

Taking into account that the Elasmotherium sibiricum belonged to the phylum chordata and even more to the Mammalia class, it is fair to say that its reproduction was similar to that of current mammals.

In this sense, it can be inferred that they reproduced sexually. This involved the fusion or union of sex cells (egg and sperm).

Mating rituals

Specialists are not very sure if this species of mammal had any mating rituals. However, due to the degree of kinship and resemblance they had with the current rhinos, everything seems to indicate that they could indeed have a courtship ritual.

In this sense, it is believed that when it was time to reproduce, the female entered the period of heat. Her way of letting the male know that she was ready for reproduction could be very similar to that of today’s rhinos, that is, urinating on the ground, releasing a large amount of pheromones in the urine that were intended to attract the attention of the male .

It is assumed that there would be several males there, so the most expected is that they would engage in fighting between them to determine which was the dominant male and, therefore, the one who would have the right to mate. Many experts agree that the rhinoceros horn would play an important role in that fight.

Fertilization

Once the mating rituals were over, it was time for the actual mating process to begin. Elasmotherium sibiricum fertilization was internal, which implies that the male had to introduce the sperm into the female’s body. 

Well, taking into account the morphology of these animals, which was extremely similar to that of current rhinos, it is estimated that the male should be placed behind the female and climb on it, thus introducing his copulatory organ into the genital orifice to be able to deposit the sperm there, thus promoting fertilization.

Embryonic development and birth

After fertilization occurred, and following the formation process of mammals, a cell known as a zygote was formed. Immediately, this cell began to undergo a series of successive divisions, going through the known embryonic stages.

Finally, the three germ layers were formed: ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. Their cells specialized and differentiated, forming the various types of tissues and organs that were to constitute the adult animal.

The gestation period is unclear, although experts agree that given the animal’s size, it was probably longer than a year. During gestation, a structure known as the placenta developed, through which the required nutrients passed from the mother to the young.

When the period destined for gestation ended and the baby was fully developed, the female should enter the process of giving birth. During this, the female’s reproductive system, specifically her cervix, had to dilate or expand to allow the offspring to be expelled outside.

There are no data on the parental care of these animals. However, it is most likely that the female would take over the care of the young until it could fend for itself.

The time it could take for an Elasmotherium sibiricum to reach sexual maturity could be several years.

Fossils found

The first fossil belonging to an Elasmotherium sibiricum was found in 1808 in the area of ​​Siberia and consisted of a lower jaw. Later, other fossils of this animal have been collected.

The fossils that have been found consist mainly of bone fragments, the most representative being those that contain parts of the skull. The skull has perhaps been the part of the body of the Elasmotherium sibiricum that has aroused the most interest, since there is evidence of the presence of its famous horn.

Its fossils are exhibited in various museums, including the Natural History Museum in Berlin and the Natural History Museum in London. Unfortunately, so far it has not been possible to find a fossil that contains the complete skeleton of this animal.

Behavior

Despite the imposing size of this animal, in general, it was of peaceful habits. He was grazing and most of the time he was feeding.

However, this should not be a reason to underestimate Elasmotherium sibiricum . This animal was, at times, prey to some predators. In the moments when she felt threatened, her gentle temperament was transformed and the animal became one of the most fearsome.

Its large horn served as a means of protection and attack against predators. In those moments he simply lowered his head and, pointing with the horn, lunged at his attacker. Most likely, he emerged victorious from these confrontations, since, as has been said, the horn, apart from being very long, was also pointed, a lethal weapon.

However, when it comes to how these animals lived, specialists say that it is most likely that they moved in herds. This in order to provide protection to each other since, as mentioned, they could be victims of possible predators of the time, many of which were large.

Extinction

The exact time of the extinction of Elasmotherium sibiricum is not very clear, since until recently it was believed that they had become extinct more than 100,000 years ago, before the last Ice Age. However, the most modern analyzes have established that this species managed to survive until 35,000 years ago.

The exact reason for the extinction of this animal is not entirely clear. However, most specialists agree that it is most likely due to drastic climate change.

According to the records that have been collected from that time, environmental temperatures dropped significantly, causing an important change in plant biodiversity. Grass, the main source of food for Elasmotherium sibiricum , did not escape this environmental catastrophe, being replaced by lichens or mosses.

The gradual and sustained reduction of its food is what, apparently, ended up killing this animal, since it was totally unable to adapt to environmental change and adopt another resource as food.

References

  1. “Ancient unicorns may have roamed earth with humans.” Article obtained from: natgeokids.com
  2. Angulo, J. (2018). Genetic evidence clarifies the history of the Siberian unicorn. Retrieved from: tekcrispy.com
  3. Sardinia, E. (1998). Diversity and evolutionary trends of the Family Rhinocerotidae (Peryssodactyla). Palaeo. 141 (141)
  4. Kosintev, P., Mitchell, K., Van der Plicht, J. and Deviese, T. (2019). Evolution and extinction of the giant rhinoceros Elasmotherium sibiricum sheds light on late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 3 (1)
  5. Noskova, N. (2001). Elasmotherians – evolution, distribution and ecology. The world of Elephants – International Congress, Rome 2001.
  6. Shpanski, A. (2016). The last Siberian unicorn on Earth. Obtained from: abc.es
  7. Zhegallo, V., Kalandadze, N., Shapovalov, A., Bessudnova, Z. and Noskova, N. (2005). On the fossil rhinoceros Elasmotherium . Cranium 22 (1)

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