by Elizabeth Gamillo/Smithsonianmag.com
Straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxdon antiquus) were among the largest mammals to ever live during the Pleistocene era. The elephants were so massive they may have reached almost 15 feet tall and weighed over 30,864 pounds. To put that into perspective, they could have easily rested their chin on the back of the modern-day African savannah elephant, Josh Davis writes for the Natural History Museum.
However, new fossil analysis suggests that the descendants of these colossal mammals shrunk down to 15 percent of its size in 40 generations when they migrated into Sicily, an island off the toe of Italy’s boot. The divergence created two types of miniature elephants—one species was as tiny as a Shetland pony. The study, published last month in Current Biology, showcases how rapid evolutionary changes can occur when animals are isolated on an island.
Evolution on islands is a quite intriguing field of science since it can be seen as an experiment of nature or evolution in action,” study author Sina Baleka, a paleogeneticist at McMaster University, tells the New York Times‘ Jeanne Timmons.
The researchers used 11 fossils from dwarf elephant specimens found on the island to find how the tiny elephants shrunk over time. Read More: