Canada’s North, Home to Bears, and Once, Camels By IAN AUSTEN Posted NY Times
OTTAWA — Though camels are usually associated with the searing heat of the desert, a group of scientists reported on Tuesday that they had found fossilized remains of a giant camel, with a shoulder height of perhaps nine feet, in Canada’s frigid high Arctic.
“It’s a surprise when you first hear it,” said Natalia Rybczynski, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, who discovered the bone fragments in 2006. “But the Arctic in the winter was like a desert at that time.”
Dr. Rybczynski said that though scientists have long believed that camels originated in North America and then spread throughout the world, 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.
“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 published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
She had accompanied a group of scientists to Ellesmere Island, which is in the Nunavut territory, who were studying the climate history of the region. At the time when the oversized camel lived, about 3.5 million years ago, the island was considerably warmer and covered by boreal forest. Still, it had unusually severe winters that lasted about six months, Dr. Rybczynski said.
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’s a really nice example of pre-adaptability,” Dr. Rybczynski said.
The camel’s remains, 30 pieces that make up a tibia, were found near an area where a number of fossils of small forest mammals have been previously discovered. Dr. Rybczynski acknowledged, however, that she initially had no idea what she retrieved and was about to study for the next six years.
“It was a very buggy year in 2006,” she said. “Because there were a lot of mosquitoes I was wearing a bug net over my head and couldn’t tell much of anything.”
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