Baku, May 11 (AZERTAC). The Greek island of Crete was once home to the tiniest species of mammoth ever to have existed: Mammuthus creticus, say scientists.
At just over a metre tall and weighing around 300 kilograms, this extremely small mammoth was about the same size as a baby Asian elephant and the now-extinct Sicilian dwarf elephant Palaeoloxodon falconeri.
`It might have been a bit chunkier than a baby Asian elephant. And it probably would`ve had a different shaped head and curved tusks as an adult. But it probably didn`t have a woolly coat like the later woolly mammoth,` says Dr Victoria Herridge from London`s Natural History Museum, who led the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The findings resolve a long-standing debate over the identity of the fossilised remains of six teeth collected by British palaeontologist Dorothy Bate from Cape Malekas, Crete in 1904.
Most researchers, including Bate, assumed they`d come from a tiny descendent of the straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus. But it now seems the teeth instead belonged to a very small mammoth.
The site at Cape Malekas, Crete, where the fossil teeth were found.
`Everything about these teeth say mammoth,` says Herridge.
Small elephants were common on many islands around the world between 2,600,000 and just 4000 years ago - a period which scientists call the Pleistocene. And, for some as-yet-unknown reason, the Mediterranean was home to the tiniest.
Scientists have long known that large mammals tend to shrink over thousands of years after becoming isolated on an island. They call this the `island rule`.
`The opposite is true for small mammals; they tend to get bigger over time,` says Herridge.
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