Animal’s Evolution: Camels Likely Came from Canada’s Arctic [Video]

A Canadian-led research team discovered prehistoric camel fossils in the high Arctic that proves that camels originally developed in subfreezing forests of Canada.

We usually think of camels as desert animals that float though the sands of hot and empty deserts.

However, according to the recent report, a group of scientists announced that they had found fossilized remains of a giant camel, with a shoulder height of perhaps nine feet, in Canada’s frigid high Arctic.

The remarkable discovery, announced Tuesday, shows the humped creatures lived in forests that extended as far north as Ellesmere Island 3.5 million years ago during a global warm spell that the scientists say holds important lessons for the modern world.

“This completely changes how we think about the evolution of Paracamelus, which is the form that gave rise to the modern camel,” says Natalia Rybczynski, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa and a professor at Carleton University.

Dr. Rybczynski said that  scientists have long believed that camels originated in North America and then spread throughout the world.

But the remains were found about 750 miles north of what was previously the northernmost known camel fossil, a giant found in Canada’s Yukon Territory in 1913, writes the NY Times.

“It’s just kind of stunning that it’s more than 1,000 kilometers away,” said Dr. Rybczynski, the lead author of a paper about the camel.

The researchers say the find also provides evidence the camels now plodding over the sand dunes in Africa and the Middle East can trace their origins back to giant camels that evolved in Northern Canada.

What makes Rybczynski’s find special is not only how far north it was found, but its state of preservation.

The 30 fragments found in the sand and pebbles of the tundra were mummified, not fossilized.

So despite their age, the pieces preserved tiny fragments of collagen within them, a common type of protein found in bones.

The find is “mind-boggling,” says Kevin Seymour, a paleobiologist at the Royal Ontario Museum who was not involved in the study. “That’s what the far north does: it serves up these surprises every now and then.”

“The camel is an ambassador for climate change,” says John Gosse, an earth scientist at Dalhousie University and co-author of the report on the camel.

“Everything we find is interesting and important, because it’s so close to this area of interchange and change between the continents,” says Rybczynski.

The Ellesmere camel is the latest addition to a menagerie of prehistoric creatures that have been uncovered on often barren landscapes in Canada’s Arctic.

The Arctic is also an important region because it is so sensitive to climate fluctuations, she adds.

The fossil fragments date to a warm period 3.5 to 4 million years ago called the mid-Pliocene, when global mean temperatures at that point were only two to three degrees warmer than today.

But the Arctic was as much as 18 degrees warmer, with mean temperatures hovering around zero.

Features that enabled the ancient camel to survive those cold winters, like broad feet and its signature hump of fat, proved equally useful as the species went to desert regions, she said.

It also points to the remarkable “versatility and adaptability” of camels that now put their big feet and humps to use in the desert.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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