Giant rhino fossils shed light on the biggest land mammals in history

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A newly discovered species of gigantic rhino that used to roam Asia around 25 million years ago was detailed by scientists in a paper published in Nature Thursday.

With a name that just rolls right off the tongue, the newly minted Paraceratherium linxiaense was pieced together from a well-preserved skull and a few vertebrae found in the Gansu province of north-central China, in the Linxia Basin. 

Other, more complete skeletons of members of the Paraceratherium genus revealed that these hornless, giant rhinos stood at about 16 feet tall and 26 feet long, and weighed 22 tons, making them the largest land mammals in history…that we’ve found. For comparison: The largest elephants that currently walk the Earth are around 13 feet tall and weigh 7 tons.

The new fossils indicate that the linxiaense species could be a bit larger than its predecessors.

These giant rhinos occupied western and central Asia toward the tail end of Oligocene, around 23 to 34 million years ago. Their territory stretched from Mongolia to Pakistan.

Giant rhino fossils shed light on the biggest land mammals in history

Image: Danny Ye via shutterstock

The new linxiaense species has a few differences that separate it from other members of its genus, including a deeper nasal notch that indicates the presence of a short, prehensile trunk. The variety of skull shapes and sizes of Paraceratherium can be seen in this chart, which includes an image of the linxiaense skull at the bottom.

The fossils also help scientists paint a picture of how the area developed all those millions of years ago. The presence of these giant rhinos indicates that what’s currently a dry and highly elevated Tibetan Plateau was a much lower, moister stretch of land made up of woodlands and grasslands.

Paraceratherium grazed on leaves and other soft plant material, their immense size severely limiting any threat of predators.

Their extinction likely came at the hands of several factors, including climate change and the arrival of other species that may have disrupted the environment and food chain. Elephant-like mammars that migrated from Africa may have destroyed the trees that giant rhinos relied on in order to shape the land into more preferable grasslands. … that we’ve found. For comparison: the largest elephants that currently walk the Earth are around 13 feet tall and weigh 7 tons.r



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