The cervical rib of woolly mammoths hints at the reason for their extinction

The cervical rib of woolly mammoths hints at the reason for their extinction


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A pair of Dutch researchers has found a striking anomaly in woolly mammoth fossil remains. Analyzing the bones of this extinct species, they have discovered that around a third of these had a cervical rib, that is, in the neck. And many of them had two of these ribs.

The cervical rib is known as a las useless parts of the human body, Although it is a strange phenomenon that only occurs in one in every 500 people. Almost all mammals have seven vertebrae in the neck, regardless of the length of the neck. And although the cervical rib appears more or less frequently, it is not an indispensable part of any of them. Looking for a species closer to the mammoth, this bone is present in 3.3% of elephants.

Although the rib itself is harmless, its presence is usually indicative of problems in early pregnancy. And therefore they usually appear in animals with congenital defects and in natural abortions. Researchers from the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and the Leiden Center for Natural Biodiversity have analyzed the cervical vertebrae of mammoths and elephants available in various European museums.

We were curious to find two cervical vertebrae, with large cavities for ribs, in the mammoth samples recently obtained from the North Sea. We knew that these were practically the last mammoths to live there, so we suspected something was up. Our work now shows that there was a problem in this population”Says Jelle Reumer, one of the study's authors.

In this way, such a high incidence of cervical ribs indicates that a disproportionate number of mammoths had suffered embryonic problems, and that the population suffered serious problems. It is difficult to say exactly what these problems were, but potential factors include cold, disease, famine, and inbreeding (being a small and declining population). All of them can lead to embryonic and fetal defects, and could provide an explanation for the extinction of the species.

The study has been published in the open access journal Peer J under the name Extraordinary incidence of cervical ribs indicates vulnerable condition in Late Pleistocene mammoths.


Video: Wikipedia Cervical rib


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