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iWoolly mammoth
Fossil range: Late Pleistocene to Recent
Mamut NDH 2
Conservation status
Extinct (fossil)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Mammuthus
Species: M. primigenius
Binomial name
Mammuthus primigenius
Blumenbach, 1799


The woolly mammoth, also called the tundra mammoth, is an extinct species of mammoth. This animal is known from bones and frozen carcasses from Ireland to the east coast of North America with the best preserved carcasses in Siberia.

This mammoth species were first recorded in (possibly 150,000 years old) deposits of the second last glaciation in Eurasia. They were derived from steppe mammoths (Mammuthus trogontherii).[1]


Extinction

While most woolly mammoths died out at the end of the Pleistocene (12,000 years ago), a small population survived on Wrangel Island, located in the Arctic Ocean, up until 1700 B.C.. Possibly due to their limited food supply, these animals were a dwarf variety, thus much smaller than the original Pleistocene woolly mammoth. However, the Wrangel Island mammoths should not be confused with the Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth, Mammuthus exilis, which was a different species.

Frozen carcasses

Mammuthus primigenius baby Dima Luzern

The preserved baby woolly mammoth named Dima

Some woolly mammoths have been found preserved in ice, with much soft tissue remaining. In 1977, the well-preserved carcass of a 7 to 8 months old baby woolly mammoth, named "Dima", was discovered. This carcass was recovered from permafrost on a tributary of the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia. This baby woolly mammoth weighed approximately 100 kg at death and was 104 cm high and 115 cm long. Radiocarbon dating determined that Dima died about 40,000 years ago. Its internal organs are similar to those of living elephants, but its ears are only one-tenth the size of those of an African elephant of similar age.[1]

In the summer of 1997, a Dolgan family named Jarkov discovered a piece of mammoth tusk protruding from the tundra of the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia, Russia. In September/October 1999 this 20,380 year old carcass and the surrounding sediment were flown to an ice cave in Khatanga, Taimyr. In October 2000, the careful defrosting operations in this cave began with the use of hairdryers to keep the hair and other "soft tissues" intact.[2]

Genetics

Since there is a known case in which an Asian elephant and an African elephant have produced a live (though sickly) offspring, it has been theorised that if mammoths were still alive today, they would be able to interbreed with Indian elephants. This has led to the idea that perhaps a mammoth-like beast could be recreated by taking genetic material from a frozen mammoth and combining it with that from a modern Indian elephant.

Scientists hope to retrieve the preserved reproductive organs of a frozen mammoth and revive its sperm cells. However, not enough genetic material has been found in frozen mammoths for this to be attempted. The complete mitochondrial genome sequence of Mammuthus primigenius has been determined, however [3]. The analysis demonstrates that the divergence of mammoth, African elephant, and Asian elephant occurred over a short time, and confirmed that the mammoth was more closely related to the Asian than to the African elephant. As an important landmark in this direction, in December 2005, a team of German, UK & American researchers were able to assemble a complete mitochondrial DNA of the mammoth, which allowed them to trace the close evolutionary relationship between mammoths and the Asian elephant. African elephants branched away from the woolly mammoth around 6 million years ago, a moment in time intriguingly close to that of the similar split between chimps and humans.

On July 6, 2006 it was reported that scientists, using the latest genetic techniques, determined that a gene called Mc1r, extracted from a 43,000-year old woolly mammoth bone from Siberia, caused woolly mammoths to have dark brown coats or blond hair.[4] [5]

Popular Culture

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Harington, C.R. (1995). Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre - Woolly Mammoth. Retrieved from http://www.beringia.com/02/02maina2.html
  2. Mol, D. et al. (2001). The Jarkov Mammoth: 20,000-Year-Old carcass of a Siberian woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius (Blumenbach, 1799). The World of Elephants, Proceedings of the 1st International Congress (October 16-20 2001, Rome): 305-309. Full text pdf
  3. Krause J. et al. (2006). Multiplex amplification of the mammoth mitochondrial genome and the evolution of Elephantidae. Nature 439, 724-727 (9 February 2006)
  4. Rompler H. et al. (2006). Nuclear Gene Indicates Coat-Color Polymorphism in Mammoths. Science 313 (5783), 62. Online abstract
  5. Morelle, R. (2006). Gene reveals mammoth coat colour. BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5154892.stm

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