T + T – normal size
Scientists could not determine the exact process that led to the development of the giraffe’s long neck, but their assumptions were that the reason for the development in its neck was due to the high foliage.
A new assumption proposed by researchers is that this development was a defensive ploy for giraffes, based on an ancient ancestor who had a “helmet” in the form of a disk on his head that he used to hit heads together.
Paleontologist Professor Tao Ding, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, and colleagues studied a strange type of early giraffe called Discokeryx xiezhi.
The team analyzed the fossilized remains of D. xiezhi, including a complete skull and four neck vertebrae – that were discovered on the northern margin of the Junggar Basin in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
According to the researchers, the samples date back to about 17 million years ago, during the early Miocene epoch.
Professor Ding said: “Discokeryx xiezhi has many unique characteristics among mammals, including the development of a large, disc-like ossicone in the middle of its head.”
Ossicones are described as skin-covered skeletons, superficially resembling horns, which can be found on the heads of modern giraffes and males of okapi.
The team noted that the vertebrae of D. xiezhi’s neck are very strong and have the most complex joints of any mammal known between the head and neck and between the vertebrae.
Moreover, the researchers’ analysis indicated that these intricate joints were particularly well suited to engage in high-speed, head-to-head impacts – even more so than modern animals like musk oxen that have been adapted to hit heads.
In fact, the team said, D. xiezhi may be among the best-adapted vertebrates to head impacts from all of life’s history.
The paper’s author and vertebrate paleontologist Professor Shiki Wang, from the IVPP, said: “Living giraffes and Discokeryx xiezhi both belong to the Giraffoidea, a superfamily. Although the shape of the skull and neck varies greatly, both are associated with male courtship conflicts and both have evolved in an extreme direction. “.
Next, the researchers compared the shapes and sizes of the horns of several groups of ruminants, including not only giraffes but also cattle, deer and sheep.
The team found that the giraffe family has more sharp differences between species than other groups – suggesting that courtship struggles are more intense and diverse in giraffes than in other ruminants.
The full results of the study were published in the journal Science.
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