We’ve had it drilled into our heads that “bigger is not better” in various aspects of life. However, it appears that bigger was better in the prehistoric mammal dating scene. Researchers surprisingly discovered recently that Columbian Mammoths, a massive form of elephant that roamed North American some 12,000 years ago, regularly interbred with the smaller woolly mammoth.
“We are talking about two very physically different species here,” researcher Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University told Fox News.com. “You have roughly 1 million years of separation between the two, with the Columbian mammoth likely derived from an early migration into North America approximately 1.5 million years ago, and their woolly counterparts emigrating to North America some 400,000 years ago.”
So the fact that they mated with each other came as quite a shock to scientist, especially considering the woollies preferred the cold climate of the tundra while the Columbians hung out primarily in southern and central North America. Poinar and his team studied DNA from bone, teeth and tusks from a couple of 11,000 year old Colombian Mammoth fossils and were shocked to find that the mitochondrial genome were identical to that of the woolly mammoth.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh crap, there’s contamination of some sort,’” Poinar states. “”I think we were very lucky.”
“We think we may be looking at a genetic hybrid,” added researcher Jacob Enk of McMaster Ancient DNA Center to Fox News.com. “Living African elephant species hybridize where their ranges overlap, with the bigger species out-competing the smaller for mates.”
It’s thought that when the ice age got even too cold and miserable even for the woolly mammoth they migrated to more hospitable terrain down south. That would have been where they met up with the Big Man on Campus – the Columbian Mammoth.
“It reminds me a bit of high-school days — the larger males are more successful at meeting women across the dance floor than the rest of us,” Poinar states.
Bigger really is better, after all.