Catastrophic ‘Icing Events' Caused the Death of the Last Woolly Mammoths: Study
Sun, April 11, 2021

Catastrophic ‘Icing Events' Caused the Death of the Last Woolly Mammoths: Study

 

Previous studies have shown that the two factors that led to the extinction of the last surviving populations of the woolly mammoth, which lived on the two remote islands of Wrangel and St. Paul, were climate change and human hunting. St. Paul’s woolly mammoths lived until about 5,600 years ago while mammoths on Wrangel Island survived 1,600 years longer.

 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Laura Arppe from the Finnish Museum of Natural History and her colleagues decided to use the mammoth bones and teeth found on Wrangel Island to study the population’s diet, nutrition, and metabolism. They wanted to observe any signs that would lead up to the extinction, like signs of starvation or malnutrition. “No one had looked at what was going on with the dietary ecology of the Wrangelian mammoths, and with all these other observations related to diet, it was high time to do so,” said Arppe.

 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

From there, the researchers determined the population sizes of the mammoths. The Siberian mammoth lived alongside 13,000 mammoths, while the Wrangel mammoth was alive alongside a mere 300. However, they revealed that the last island population appears to have vanished rather abruptly. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, there were no signs that the population decreased before extinction. It seemed that they disappeared amidst stable conditions. This baffled the researchers.

 

Photo Credit: All That's Interesting

 

The researchers later discovered that “icing events” caused the mammoths’ extinction. This is when rain on snow causes the ground to become covered in ice and impenetrable to hungry woolly mammoths. The Wrangel mammoths lived longer than their Siberian counterparts because the former used their fat reserves during cold winters, while the latter did not. “These types of events have been known to cause deaths of large numbers of herbivores in the Arctic. 20,000 musk oxen were starved to death in 2003 in the Canadian Arctic due to a rain-on-snow event,” Arppe explained. 

 

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