Animals, Science

Camel Fossils Found In Canada’s Arctic

Image: Richard Lydekker
A Pliocene era fossilized camel leg, perhaps similar to those seen here, were found of the Image: Richard Lydekker

Scientists have discovered fossilized bone fragments belonging to a prehistoric camel that lived in Canada’s High Arctic about 3.5 million years ago.

The fossils were found on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, in a site near the Strathcona Fiord.

Scientists have also found the fossilized remains of mammals such as bears, beavers and deerlets (small deerlike animals) in this area.

The site is a polar desert now, but during the Pliocene era – the time when the when the camel was alive – it would have been a forest. The average temperature in the Arctic was 14 to 22 degrees warmer then, so it was warm enough for trees to grow, but still cold, snowy and dark for much of the year.

Natalia Rybcynski is a research scientist from the Canadian Museum of Nature, and the leader of the expedition on Ellesmere Island. Rybcynski found the first piece of camel bone in 2006. At first she thought it was a piece of fossilized wood, but quickly realized it was a bone fragment.

It took the researchers three years to find 30 fossil fragments which fit together to form most of a leg bone. They could tell that the bone belonged to a large animal with cloven hooves (hooves that are split into two toes, such as those belonging to deer, sheep and camels).

Then the researchers used a process called “collagen fingerprinting” to determine what type of animal it was.

To do this, scientists remove a substance called collagen – a type of protein – from the bones, and compare it to collagen from modern animals. In this case, the collagen closely matched that of the modern camel.

Today, camels usually live in hot, dry conditions. But many of the traits that make camels well suited for desert living would also have helped them in a cold, snowy environment.

The broad, flat hooves that help a camel to walk on sand would also have been good for walking in snow.

The camel’s hump, where fat is stored, would have helped it survive the long winter.

And the camel’s large eyes would help it to see in low-light conditions such as an arctic winter.

Camels now live in Africa and Asia, but scientists believe they originated in North America about 45 million years ago.

Some moved south and eventually evolved into animals such as llamas and vicunas. Others later crossed the Bering land bridge (land that once connected Alaska and Russia) into Eurasia, and spread south from there.

Related sites

Canadian Museum of Nature press release, including video and photos

Complete journal article with illustrations.

Featured image courtesy: Keven Law

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Today’s article explains why a camel skeleton was found in an environment where we’d least expect it, Canada’s High Arctic. It’s a story that tells how camels have changed how and where they live in order to survive. How does the ability to change help all species survive? Why is the inability to change dangerous for species?

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
As I read “Camel Fossils Found In Canada’s Arctic” I was reminded of another TKN article, “Lost Penguin Back in His Natural Habitat” . Read both articles and discuss with a friend the similarities and differences between these two articles. Have you read another article in the news that reminded you of today’s story?

Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Grammar Feature: Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns
A proper noun is the specific name of a person, place, or thing (noun). For example, LeBron James, Sarnia, and Kleenex are the specific names of a person, place, and thing; they are proper nouns. A common noun is a general person, place, or thing, and is not specific. For example, taxi driver, home, and chair are in general; they are common nouns. When writing a proper noun it is important to spell it correctly and to capitalize the first letter.

Beside each example, write whether it is a common or proper noun. If it’s a proper noun, underline the first letter three times.

1. camel __________________________

2. school __________________________

3. the rolling stones __________________________

4. cape breton __________________________

5. desk __________________________

6. cn tower __________________________

7. poet __________________________

8. justin timberlake __________________________

9. memphis, tennessee __________________________

10. love __________________________