Male mammoths were much more likely than females to engage in risky behavior

A new study sheds light on why most mammoth fossils come from males.
By James Smith | Nov 08, 2017
A group of European researchers have found that male mammoths were more likely to get caught in traps like holes and bogs than their female counterparts, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

The team made this discovery by conducting an analysis of woolly mammoth DNA, which revealed that nearly 70 percent of the genomes looked at in the study were from males. That is a huge imbalance that suggests many more male mammoths were preserved at death.

To explain that, researchers postulated that males were more likely than females to die in ways that preserved their bodies. That would have included falling into tar pits or getting trapped in bogs.

"Most bones, tusks, and teeth from mammoths and other Ice Age animals haven't survived," explained study co-author Love Daln, a researcher at Stockholm University, in a statement. "It is highly likely that the remains that are found in Siberia these days have been preserved because they have been buried, and thus protected from weathering. The new findings imply that male mammoths more often died in a way that meant their remains were buried, perhaps by falling through lake ice in winter or getting stuck in bogs."

Though researchers are not sure, they believe that trend occurred inexperienced males traveled alone, which caused them to fall into the traps that made preservation more likely.

That theory may sound odd, but it makes sense when you look at modern elephants. Most elephants live in herds that are made up of both females and young elephants. However, males typically live alone or with other bachelors, which leads them to take more risky behavior.

"Without the benefit of living in a herd led by an experienced female, male mammoths may have had a higher risk of dying in natural traps such as bogs, crevices, and lakes," added Daln, according to Gizmodo.

This study shows that woolly mammoths were similar to modern elephants in terms of their behavior, and that fossil remains may help researchers learn more about the ancient beasts.

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