I was born too late

See, I just barely missed my chance to witness an Elasmotherium.

Scientists originally thought that Elasmotherium sibiricum, commonly referred to as “Siberian Unicorn,” died out around 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. But a recent study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, a peer-reviewed journal, reveals the species was alive until at least 39,000 years ago, a contemporary of both humans and Neanderthals.

Awesome. Although I do have to think about whether it would be a fair trade-off to have been born 40,000 years ago in Siberia in order to see an animal that would stomp me flat.


  1. consciousness razor says

    Climate change, along with particular dietary requirements, could be factors that contributed to the Siberian Unicorn’s extinction.
    The animal, which weighed up to 3.5 tons, lived in modern day Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and China.
    “The rhino’s anatomy suggested that it lived in pretty open, grassy plains, grazing almost entirely on grass,” Lister told the Natural History Museum of London. “Its unusual teeth look very strongly adapted for that kind of grazing as well.”

    All of you parents out there have my permission to use this against your children when they’re picky eaters.
    “This is what killed the unicorns, Timmy! You have to clean your plate. Don’t kill the unicorns!”

  2. michaelcrichton says

    While I’m sure climate change was a factor, that doesn’t explain how they managed to survive the four previous glacial periods. The only significant difference is that THIS glacial period had modern humans outside of Africa.

  3. Ragutis says

    Tabby Lavalamp

    6 December 2018 at 11:13 am

    I always thought I’d want to clone a mammoth to ride to work.

    I was mistaken.

    Are you saying that now you’d rather not attempt to control an immense hairy beast on the daily commute, or that you found a model that you like better than the mammoth? That horn would be tempting to use in traffic jams. Then again, most people would just gtfo of the way if they saw that in the rearview mirror.

    For a second I was wondering about the toes/claws at the knee until I realized those were someone’s legs.

    Good gravy! That thing is massive. Jurassic Park that bad boy along with the mammoths and groundsloths. Set aside a few thousand square miles of Siberian Steppe and let ’em roam.

  4. René says

    I’d blame Sinanthropus — Homo erectus pekinensis — and their traditional medicine for the beast’s demise.

  5. Rich Woods says

    The titanotheres were closer to horses than to rhinos. Apparently many species were social, so you have to wonder if that made them as intelligent as modern horses. Clever and feckin’ huge, and likely only one natural predator…

    I bet they tasted delicious.

  6. monad says

    @7: Elasmotherium is supposed to be a straight-up Rhinocerotidae, though. Not that rhinoceroses can’t have more sociality and complex behaviors than they are sometimes given credit for.

  7. nomdeplume says

    That must be the most extraordinary natural weapon of any species anywhere at any time!

    @2 This is just another case of the growing number of cases of demonstrating that climate change killed off the large species of the late Pleistocene. Sure they survived earlier glacials (although it may well be that there were extinctions associated with those, the fossil record is not detailed enough to be sure) but the last glacial may just have been the most extreme in relation to some factor or factors. Human causation was always a tenuous explanation with little evidence. The fact that climate change was a major factor, perhaps the only factor, is yet another reason to be concerned about current change,

  8. anchor says

    Maybe our ancestors also had a thing for that horn. If there was a population of 10,000 of them today they’d be all gone in a decade, horns hacked off every corpse. Magical thinking kills everything.

  9. barndad says

    @10. Climate is the tenuous explanation as there is nothing special about the last transition. Previous cycles switched faster, had more extreme temperatures. There is good fossil evidence for a low extinction rate at previous transitions e.g. straight-tusked elephant at 120k. Direct evidence for human hunting of megafauna is everywhere, from tools made from woolly rhino horn to mammoth shoulder blades with flint spears still stuck in them. Every species of extinct megafauna that has been looked at has some evidence of human predation. Cutmarks on Megatherium bones, preserved skins cut from Mylodon sloths, cave lions made into rugs, mastodon ribs with puncture points containing projectiles made from other mastodon bones. Also, have you met humans? Nowhere have modern humans lived in equilibrium with large mammals. The only place megafauna survive are regions they’ve evolved in close contact with our species and know how to actively avoid us or in areas so anathematic to human life that we haven’t been able to colonise until recently. Elasmotherium last found around 40k. Modern humans enter eastern Europe and Southern Siberia around 40k. I’m sure it’s a coincidence.

  10. nomdeplume says

    Yes, I know all that. Exploitation of megafauna to the extent there is any evidence for whatsoever is not the same as causing extinction of megafauna. Everywhere that there is detailed knowledge of climate it can be linked to extinction. “Nothing special” doesn’t mean anything in general. There may well have been extinctions associated with the earlier cycles. The precise nature of the change in the Late Pleistocene, and its particular effect on water supplies, plant growth, temperatures, may well have been such as to cause the final extinctions.

    I know “humans did it” is an explanation that appeals to many people. I really don’t care what people believe. I worked on the extinctions in Australia for many years as one of my primary research fields, and have been arguing the case for climate since the early 1970s. I’m too old to keep arguing now. I just thought this was a fascinating species, and I was responding to an earlier comment assuming without proof that it was human induced extinction.

  11. numerobis says

    barndad: by “modern humans” you need post-industrialization? If you just mean H.sapiens then there’s lots of megafauna that have done fine until industrialization.

  12. barndad says

    @14 that is definitely not true. Nowhere that climate has been studied for the late Pleistocene has it shown any predictive power for which species went extinct. It doesn’t explain the chronology of the extinctions e.g. Australia first, Americas last. It doesn’t explain the staggered and top-down nature of the extinctions in Eurasia.
    I similarly don’t care what people believe, it’s just that there is actual evidence for human over-exploitation of megafauna, but nothing that says climate was anything other than a secondary stressor.
    We will not agree on this issue, so I’m happy just to enjoy Elasmotherium getting its day in the sun.

  13. zetopan says

    You may want to exhibit some skepticism about that particular website (“The Science News Reporter”).
    Just below an artist rendering they have this caption: “This stock rendering depicts the Elasmotherium mammal dinosaurs walking in the steppe grass in Siberia”. Mammels less than 100K years ago are actually dinosaurs?

    Also check out the YouTube video that they link to below claiming that a NASA director says that aliens are coming to destroy the humans on Earth. There also seems to be a lot of click-bait titles and images on that site.

  14. Cuttlefish says

    Saw something today (socks with rhinos) that had a phrase that seems appropriate:
    Real Unicorns Have Curves.