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Giant Camels Roamed the Icy Canadian Arctic 3.5 Million Years Ago

Update Date: Mar 06, 2013 08:59 PM EST

Camels roamed the icy Arctic of Canada? That's exactly what paleontologist learnt after discovering 30 bone fragments of giant camels in Ellesmere Island in Canada, according to a report released Tuesday.

Natalia Rybczynski, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, made the discovery of the bone fragments and after piecing them together, they discovered these camels were a third larger than any living today. The discovery, reported online March 5 in Nature Communications, suggests modern camels most likely descended from a cold-dwelling ancestor.

The bone fragments from these ancient camels came from a gravel-rich layer of sediments laid down 3.5 million years ago. Rybcynski said some of these animals crossed a land bridge from what is today Alaska to eastern Siberia and that meant they were living, even thriving, at latitudes where few mammals can now survive.

"The first time I picked up a piece, I thought that it might be wood," said Rybczynski. "It was only back at the field camp that I was able to ascertain it was not only bone, but also from a fossil mammal larger than anything we had seen so far from the deposits."

By placing the bone fragments and analyzing the proportions, the study revealed the camel was a giant, at around 2.7 meters tall at the shoulder.

"Being big was something camels did very well," said Rybczynski, according to NBC News. "An animal today that would be an analogue is the moose - it's huge," she said.

A large body size would have allowed it to regulate its body temperature better during the winters and cover larger distances walking, she explained.

The first fragment of the specimen was found in 2006 and over later visits in 2008 and 2010, Rybczynski and her team assembled a collection of 30 bone fragments that fit together to resemble the tibia of a large ungulate.

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