Mammoth calf on tour in Canada

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Mammoth calf, preserved

The surprisingly well-preserved body of a woolly mammoth calf is on loan from Siberia to Victoria’s Royal British Columbia Museum.  The infant mammoth is thought to have been one month old at the time that she drowned and froze to death 40,000 years ago.  Lyuba is named for the wife of the Siberian shepherd who discovered the mammoth.  I’m sure the wife was thrilled about that.  From CBC News:

New Royal BC Museum exhibit features Lyuba, a 40,000-year-old baby mammoth

Exhibit also features a dire wolf, made famous by Game of Thrones

By Liam Britten, CBC News Posted: May 29, 2016 6:00 AM PTLast Updated: May 29, 2016 1:33 PM PT

Dire wolves, mastodons and short-faced bears, oh my.

Those are just some of the creatures featured in a new exhibit at Victoria’s Royal BC Museum called Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age.

The exhibit includes a 40,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth as its centrepiece, which the museum calls the best-preserved specimen in existence.

The mammoth, on loan from the Shemanovskiy Yamal-Nenets District Museum and Exhibition Complex in Siberia, has been travelling the world since 2010.

The mammoth is named Lyuba, after the wife of the Siberian herder who discovered it, according to Evgeniya Khzyainov, deputy director and curator for the Shemonovskiy Museum.

Khzyainov told All Points West’s Sterling Eyford that the mammoth was about one or two months old when it died by drowning.

“When she died she wasn’t damaged by other animals, she was frozen, and when she froze it was [lucky] she wasn’t damaged again by animals,” said Khzyainov…

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“Mammoth species interbred, perhaps extensively”

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A new study of mammoth DNA suggests that mammoths mated outside of their species. Mammoth tissue specimens reveal that woolly mammoths of cold regions in North America bred with temperate climate Columbian mammoths. The news is surprising to me given the social cohesion of mammoth herds. I would have thought that herds would have resisted advances by bull mammoths with distinctive phenomes.

Phys.org sums up the study:

…By using differences in the size and shape of their fossilized teeth, a number of North American mammoth species have been identified. But, some scientists are not confident this method of species categorization tells the whole story.

“Species boundaries can be very blurry. We might find differences in features of the teeth or skeleton that closely correspond to what we think are real species boundaries. But other features may not correspond to those boundaries, suggesting that what we formerly regarded as separate species are in fact not at all,” explains Hendrik Poinar, a Professor at McMaster University in Canada, who co-led the new study with his former graduate student Jake Enk and collaborator Ross MacPhee, a Professor at the American Museum of Natural History.

Professor Poinar and his co-authors used cutting-edge methods to distinguish species of North American mammoths. Tiny samples of fossilized mammoth bone, teeth and faeces, were generously donated by a number of museums across America and Canada. DNA was extracted from these samples in a specialized laboratory of the Ancient DNA centre at the McMaster University, and used to create a family tree of their evolution. The results proved to be very interesting.

North American mammoths such as the Columbian and Woolly Mammoths were historically thought to originate from two separate primitive species. However, this latest DNA analysis agrees with a more recent idea that all North American mammoths originated from a single primitive species, the Steppe Mammoth.

“Individuals of the Woolly and Columbian mammoths look like they represent different species in terms of their molar teeth, but their genetics say that they were not completely separate in the evolutionary sense and could successfully interbreed,” says Professor MacPhee.

Professor Poinar continues, “Mammoths were much better at adapting to new habitats than we first thought—we suspect that subgroups of mammoths evolved to deal with local conditions, but maintained genetic continuity by encountering and potentially interbreeding with each other where their two different habitats met, such as at the edge of glaciers and ice sheets.”

So, while mammoths clearly evolved differences in their physical appearance to deal with different environments, it did not prohibit them from cross-breeding and producing healthy offspring…

Mammoth skull unearthed in Oklahoma

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A construction worker in Oklahoma recently found part of a skull and tusk of a Columbian mammoth.  Mammoth remains are found a couple of times per year in that part of the country.  They must have been plentiful back then.  From the Spanish wire service EFE:

Archaeologists have found a mammoth skull and two tusk fragments in a sand pit in northeastern Oklahoma, media reports said.

The Oklahoma Archeological Survey, or OAS, identified the animal as a Columbian mammoth, one of the last species of that giant mammal to inhabit both North America and Central America, ranging between what are today the United States and Costa Rica.

“The exact age of the deposit has not yet been determined,” the OAS said in a post on its Facebook page.

Archaeologists went to the scene after receiving images of part of a skull being dug out of the sand near Alva, located 240 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Oklahoma City.

Before becoming extinct more than 11,000 years ago, mammoths were common during the Pleistocene epoch in this central area of the United States, where two or three mammoth remains are found every year, archaeologists say.

The Columbian mammoth could reach a shoulder height of 4 meters (13 feet), weigh 8 to 10 tons and have a life span of 80 years…