Washington: Scientists have uncovered the skull of a previously unknown species of ancient rhino, a woolly animal that came equipped with a snow shovel on its head.
The newly identified rhino, dating to 3.7 million years ago, shows many Ice Age animals first adapted to the harsh Tibetan climate.
The find helps explain why so many different species roamed North America, Europe and Asia during the last Ice Age beginning about 2.8 million years ago.
They had previously adapted to cold environments in the western Himalayas before later expanding to other regions.
“There is a general principle, called Bergmann’s Rule, that suggests animals tend to increase their body size in colder environments,” Discovery News quoted co-author Xiaoming Wang, as saying.
“Large-bodied animals have relatively smaller surface areas to lose heat and thus conserve heat better -- it’s a matter of physics,” he added.
Wang and his colleagues identified Tibet as the mega herbivore cradle after discovering a new woolly rhino, Coelodonta thibetana.
“The extinct Tibetan woolly rhino had developed special adaptations for sweeping snow using its flattened, forward-leaning horn to reveal vegetation, a useful behavior for survival in the harsh Tibetan climate,” Wang explained.
Tibet also gave rise to other cold-adapted animals like the Tibetan wild yak, snow leopards and blue sheep. While woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos bit the proverbial dust some time ago, other species with Tibetan ancestry survived to modern times.
Animal experts largely agree that Tibet was indeed the birthplace for many species that later survived through the Ice Age and beyond.
The finding appears in this week’s Science.