Camels in Canada?
Scientists find fossils of ancient camels in the north Arctic
The fossils found at Ellesmere Island are the northernmost camel remains discovered in the Arctic. (Jim McMahon)
Buffalo, bears, and beavers are just some of the animals known to roam the country of Canada. But millions of years ago, our neighbor to the north was also home to a race of giant camels!
We think of camels as living in hot, dry places like Egypt. But scientists discovered 30 pieces of bone from an ancient camel in the northernmost part of Canada, within the Arctic. This is the region at the far north of the world. The camels are believed to have lived 3.5 million years ago.
Natalia Rybczynski found the camel’s remains on Ellesmere Island. She is a paleontologist (a scientist who studies fossils). “It’s a surprise when you first hear it,” she tells The New York Times, “but the Arctic in the winter was like a desert [in ancient times].”
The ancient camels, called Paracamelus, were up to 29 percent larger than today’s camels. They grew to a shoulder height of nine feet.
Paracamelus had some similar features to modern camels. They had wide, flat feet and humps made of fat. These qualities helped Paracamelus survive harsh, cold winter conditions. Their wide feet helped them travel over unstable surfaces, like snow or sand. And the fatty humps helped them survive when food was scarce.
“The characteristics that allow [camels] to survive in the desert would also support animals who live in very cold environments,” Susan Lawler tells The Epoch Times. She is a biologist, or someone who studies living things. “This study gives us an excuse to think about how adaptations for one environment can lead to survival in another.”
These are not the first Paracamelus fossils found in North America. However, before this discovery, scientists did not realize how far north the animals had lived.
Millions of years ago, the Arctic was much warmer than it is today. Some scientists believe that as the climate changes, the Arctic may actually see a return to those ancient, warmer temperatures. “The camel is an ambassador for climate change,” says John Gosse, who co-authored the study on the Paracamelus fossil.
Researchers believe that Paracamelus eventually migrated into East Asia and Europe. From there they eventually evolved into the modern-day camels found in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.