Study confirms existence of dwarf mammoth
Mammuthus creticus roamed the Mediterranean island up to 3.5 million years ago, measuring some four feet at the shoulder, the size of a baby elephant, according to a study published Wednesday.
The beast weighed in at just under 700 pounds and likely did not have the woolly coat some of its relatives further north were noted for, study author Victoria Herridge told Agence France-Presse.
Herridge added that the animal was “probably quite cute.”
“If you were to reconstruct it, I would say OK, make it look a bit like a baby elephant but probably chunkier … with sort of thicker limbs, stockier, and as an adult it would have had curly tusks,” she said. “The nearest image you’re going to get is a baby Asian elephant, but with tusks.”
Conversely, larger cousins of the mammoth found on Crete could exceed 16 feet at the shoulder, according to the wire service.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said Mammuthus creticus is an early example of a phenomenon known as insular dwarfism – animals evolving smaller in isolated environments, Agence France-Presse reported.
It probably descended from either Mammuthus meridionalis or Mammuthus rumanus, the two earliest European mammoths, Herridge said.
These adapted to warmer weather and did not have woolly coats.
Dwarf mammoths tended to share the physical characteristics of the infant versions of their ancestors rather than being scaled-down versions of their bigger peers, the scientist added.
The dwarf mammoths’ teeth suggested the creature probably ate a mixture of plants.
The findings of Herridge and her team confirm earlier scientific assertions that the animal previously known as Palaeoloxodan creticus, which lived on Crete, was a mammoth and not a dwarf in the straight-tusked elephant family.
The elephant is the closest modern relative of the mammoth, a generally huge, woolly mammal believed to have died out with the last Ice Age.