fossils

The giraffe's heavyweight cousin gets a facelift

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Vasika
Udurawane

Writer
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Lucas
Lima

Staff Artist
The biggest creature to have ever chewed a cud was a gigantic and bulky relative of giraffes and okapis. It had none of the balletic grace but instead got all the weight and brawn.

Sivatherium has always been changing. A recent study of the animal has revealed that it is the largest of a family called ruminants. Ruminants include cattle, goats and deer. These animals chew cud and have a four-chambered stomach. This system helps them to break down and digest plant matter more efficiently, and at present the ruminants  dominate the faunas of the world.


New digital reconstructions by Liverpool John Moores University show us that this creature weighed about 857 to 1,812 kilograms, a large creature by any standards, around the maximum weight of today’s largest ruminant, the giraffe. This is probably the last chapter in the Sivatherium story for a long time. Indeed, the animal’s exact appearance has been contested for centuries.


Sivatherium, named for the Hindu god of creation and destruction, is an animal dating back to the earliest days of paleontology. Since the 19th Century, scientists have been attempting to reconstruct it as realistically as possible. However for a long time, there was not much to go with, and the study of fossils was still in its infancy.


The first fossils of the beast were discovered in the Sivalik Hills Formation of India by Hugh Falconer and Proby Thomas Cautley. The animal was described in a paper in 1836, mainly on the basis  of a big, heavy skull. Many more would be found over time in Africa, and the Near and Middle East. At the time, the creature was put in a rather loose grouping known as “pachyderms”. Today this includes just elephants but at the time nearly every big and thick-skinned herbivore was a “pachyderm”, even giraffes, hippos and rhinos,. All of these were known from good fossil remains, with the exception of one.


A prehistoric giraffe was rather new to science. Early on, it was even thought that Sivatherium had a trunk, given that its nasal cavity was so large. This trunked rendition continued for quite some time, and Sivatherium became an antelope-like creature, very bulky and heavily-built with a short neck. It was often compared to a moose due to its ossicones or horns, which resembled short thick antlers. This version was popular until more fossils of the creature were discovered.


Finally the new Sivatherium was revealed after the discovery of new remains. It was much slimmer than previously believed, more like a proper okapi or a member of the giraffe family than an oversized moose. It had a medium-length neck, and stood over three meters tall at the head. It was certainly not ponderous and elephantine, and neither was it the walking mammalian skyscraper that the modern giraffe is but rather something in between.

3986b46bb4f35aa1ff4d42167a12e0fc

Vasika
Udurawane

Writer


http://sulc.us/jrg1e
http://www.eartharchives.org/articles/the-giraffe-s-heavyweight-cousin-gets-a-facelift/