Elasmotherium

Name: Elasmotherium ‭(‬Thin Plate Beast‭)‬.
Phonetic: E-las-moe-fee-ree-um.
Named By: Gotthelf Fischer von Waldheim‭ ‬-‭ ‬1808.
Synonyms: Elasmotherium inexpectatum,‭ ‬Elasmotherium peii.
Classification: Chordata,‭ ‬Mammalia,‭ ‬Eutheria,‭ ‬Perissodactyla,‭ ‬Ceratomorpha,‭ ‬Rhinocerotoidea,‭ ‬Rhinocerotidae.
Species: E.‭ ‬sibiricum,‭ ‬E.‭ ‬caucasicum,‭ ‬E.‭ ‬chaprovicum.
Diet: Herbivore.
Size: The type species E.‭ ‬sibiricum is known to have approached‭ ‬4.5‭ ‬meters long,‭ ‬and two meters high at the shoulder.‭ ‬E.‭ ‬caucasicum slightly larger at around‭ ‬5‭ ‬meters long.
Known locations: China,‭ ‬Kazakhstan,‭ ‬Russia,‭ ‬Turkmenistan,‭ ‬Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Time period: Piacenzian of the Pliocene through to the late Pleistocene.‭ ‬Extinction date usually estimated to around fifty thousand years ago,‭ ‬though evidence now exists that indicates that Elasmotherium existed for at least many thousands of years after this.
Fossil representation: Hundreds of individuals ranging from nearly complete skeletons to partial remains of teeth and jaws.

       Elasmotherium is one of the a typical animals that represents Pleistocene era fauna,‭ ‬though there has been a lot of debate over not only how it lived but what it really looked like One problematic area concerning the study of Elasmotherium is the actual morphology of the genus.‭ ‬Some reconstructions consider Elasmotherium to have been similar to modern rhinos and be set quite low to the ground,‭ ‬while other reconstructions give Elasmotherium a more horse-like appearance,‭ ‬in part due to the long legs of the animal.
       A second area of contention about Elasmotherium is the not only the shape and size of the horn.‭ ‬But whether one even existed.‭ ‬No horn core is known to exist despite multiple cranial remains,‭ ‬yet the best preserved individuals d show a boss‭ (‬round dome‭) ‬growth on bone on the skull where the horn would be expected to be.‭ ‬If Elasmotherium did not have a horn then they still would have had a low round protuberance on their heads.‭ ‬If Elasmotherium however did have horns,‭ ‬and it’s quite likely that they did,‭ ‬then these horns would have been made out of keratin,‭ ‬the same material that your fingernails are made of.‭ ‬Unfortunately keratin does not preserve like bone,‭ ‬and in time decomposes like flesh,‭ ‬which means that even with a best guess by comparison to other similar animals,‭ ‬we still do not know what shape or size this horn could have been.‭ ‬Modern reconstructions that you see today are therefore based upon comparison to other Pleistocene era rhinoceroses.
       To further complicate the matter about horn form,‭ ‬it should be remembered that there are at the time of writing three recognised species of Elasmotherium.‭ ‬The first Elasmotherium species appeared in the late Pliocene,‭ ‬popularly believed to have been descended from Sinotherium.‭ ‬The oldest species of Elasmotherium are E.‭ ‬caucasicum and E.‭ ‬chaprovicum,‭ ‬both going back as far as the late Pliocene,‭ ‬meaning that both species existed at the same time as one another.‭ ‬Two separate species would denote a need to recognise members of their own kind including physical,‭ ‬though slight,‭ ‬variation.‭ ‬Had horns been present,‭ ‬then is quite probable that the horns of the two species would have had differences in form and size,‭ ‬in a similar manner to the ceratopsian dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous.‭ ‬This is not to imply that E.‭ ‬caucasicum and E.‭ ‬chaprovicum coexisted on the same landscapes,‭ ‬merely that they may have occasionally encountered‭ ‬one another‭ ‬and needed to tell the difference.‭ ‬The type species E.‭ ‬sibiricum is better known from the late Pleistocene,‭ ‬but if this species coexisted with an older or as yet undiscovered species,‭ ‬as well as having many more hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary development,‭ ‬then it’s plausible that a keratinous horn,‭ ‬if present,‭ ‬would again be slightly different from other Elasmotherium species horns.
       Another area of debate regarding Elasmotherium is whether they were hairy or not.‭ ‬Again different species of the same genus may require different answers,‭ ‬but so far only teeth and bones of these animals are known,‭ ‬soft tissue and skin material is several lacking.‭ ‬It could be though that there is simply no one good answer and that suggestions that Elasmotherium did or did not have hair may be correct.‭ ‬The Pleistocene period was not one long ice age as it is sometimes incorrectly depicted,‭ ‬but a series of glacial periods when world temperatures dropped and ice sheets spread from the poles,‭ ‬and interglacial periods when world temperatures increased and ice sheets receded back to the poles.‭ ‬All mammals have the ability to grow hair‭; ‬even rhinos alive in Africa today still have hair though very sparse.‭ ‬During the interglacial periods when temperatures were warmer,‭ ‬Elasmotherium may have had less and/or thinner hair.‭ ‬Conversely,‭ ‬during the glacial periods when world temperatures were cooler,‭ ‬Elasmotherium may have been more hairy than their interglacial ancestors and descendants.
       Elasmotherium have been depicted as living in a wide variety of environments,‭ ‬though today most palaeontologists agree that Elasmotherium probably lived on open grass plains in mixed scrub,‭ ‬probably switching between the two as they wandered.‭ ‬Elasmotherium are usually depicted as being grazers of grass and low growing vegetation.‭ ‬This is mainly derived from the observation that the teeth are large and have high crowns,‭ ‬a form that is very common to grazing animals that experience high tooth wear from their diets.‭ ‬Grassy plains featuring the occasional area of sparse woodland would have also been very common during this period of the Earth’s history,‭ ‬and most of the successful herbivores of this time evolved to exploit these environments.
       Quickly returning to the subject of whether Elasmotherium were hairy or not,‭ ‬living in areas that were exposed to environmental elements may have meant a greater need to develop hair growth.‭ ‬One reason is the obvious that such environments offer very little protection from prevailing winds which can add a significant wind chill factor to existing temperatures in an environment.‭ ‬Another factor,‭ ‬especially during glacial periods is that the air is not just colder,‭ ‬but drier because a much greater proportions of the world’s water is frozen solid as ice.‭ ‬This means a greatly reduced cloud cover which in turn does not trap the warm air that had built up during the day,‭ ‬not only causing a reduction in air temperatures,‭ ‬but freezing what little moisture is on the ground as frost.‭ ‬This would have been particularly true for inland areas such as central Eurasia,‭ ‬which may have furthered the need for Elasmotherium to be hairy.
       There are a few areas over which we are a little more certain about Elasmotherium.‭ ‬The front feet of Elasmotherium were larger than the rear.‭ ‬This is significant as the form of the fore quarters shows that the fore legs would have had a greater weight bearing responsibility than the rear legs.‭ ‬Larger fore feet would have reduced ground pressure due to the greater weight being spread over a larger surface area,‭ ‬something that may have helped Elasmotherium to deal with snowy and other soft surface conditions.‭ ‬Cave art that is many thousands of years old also depicts beasts like Elasmotherium that show them to have more bison-like poses than those of horses,‭ ‬something that lends a little of support to modern reconstructions of Elasmotherium being a bit more low slung with their heads held closer to the ground for browsing.‭ ‬One cave in particular at Rouffignac in France shows a primitive drawing of a rhinoceros-like beast that some have interpreted to possibly be an Elasmotherium.‭
       Studies of the limbs of Elasmotherium also suggest that they would have been quite like modern day rhinos in terms of their locomotion.‭ ‬Although it is uncertain how fast they could run given their size and weights,‭ ‬which are variable according to interpretation,‭ ‬it has been recognised that Elasmotherium were at least skeletally capable of an airborne phase during running as in a gallop.

Further reading
- About the Hyroideum,‭ ‬Sternum and Metacarpale V Bones of Elasmotherium sibiricum Fischer‭ (‬Rhinocerotidae‭) ‬-‭ ‬Journal of the Palaeontological Society of India‭ ‬20:‭ ‬10‭–‬15.‭ ‬-‭ ‬E.‭ ‬I.‭ ‬Belyaeva‭ ‬-‭ ‬1977.
- Diversity and evolutionary trends of the Family Rhinocerotidae‭ (‬Perissodactyla‭) ‬-‭ ‬Palaeo‭ (‬141‭)‬:‭ ‬13‭–‬34‭ ‬-‭ ‬Esperenza Cerdeņo‭ ‬-‭ ‬1998.
- Middle Miocene elasmotheriine Rhinocerotidae from China and Mongolia:‭ ‬taxonomic revision and phylogenetic relationships‭ ‬-‭ ‬Zoologica Scripta‭ (‬The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters‭) ‬32‭ (‬2‭)‬:‭ ‬95‭–‬118‭ ‬-‭ ‬Pierre-Olivier Antoine‭ ‬-‭ ‬2003.
- Limb Bones of Elasmotherium‭ (‬Rhinocerotidae,‭ ‬Perissodactyla‭) ‬from Nihewan‭ (‬Hebei,‭ ‬China‭) ‬-‭ ‬Vertebrata Palasiatica‭ (‬in Chinese with English translations‭) (‬4‭)‬:‭ ‬110‭–‬121‭ ‬-‭ ‬Tao Deng,‭ ‬Ming Zheng‭ ‬-‭ ‬2005.
-‭ ‬On the fossil rhinoceros Elasmotherium‭ (‬including the collections of the Russian Academy of Sciences‭) ‬-‭ ‬V.‭ ‬Zhegallo,‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Kalandadze,‭ ‬A.‭ ‬Shapovalov,‭ ‬Z.‭ ‬Bessudnova,‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Noskova,‭ ‬E.‭ ‬Tesakova‭ ‬-‭ ‬2005.
- Relict Mammal Species of the Middle Pleistocene in Late Pleistocene Fauna of the Western Siberia South‭ ‬-‭ ‬Quaternary stratigraphy and paleontology of the Southern Russia:‭ ‬connections between Europe,‭ ‬Africa and Asia:‭ ‬Abstracts of the International INQUA-SEQS Conference‭ (‬Rostov-on-Don,‭ ‬June‭ ‬21‭–‬26,‭ ‬2010‭)‬.‭ ‬Rostov-on-Don:‭ ‬Russian Academy of Science.‭ ‬pp.‭ ‬78‭–‬79‭ ‬-‭ ‬2010.



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