Baby mammoth ate the evidence of its environment
Posted by Ari Jokimäki on April 28, 2011
A frozen and mummified baby mammoth was found in 2007 from Yamal peninsula. The species of the baby mammoth was woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and it was named as Lyuba. Luyba was about 1-1,5 months old when it died. According to radiocarbon dating, Lyuba died about 45,400 calendar years ago.
Luyba was fully intact otherwise but it didn’t have hair anymore. Lyuba is only the second baby mammoth which has been found with its intestinal tract. Baby mammoth found in 1977 and named as Dima had also intestinal tract, but it was partly destroyed. Lyuba’s intestinal tract was fully intact, which makes this finding very significant.
In a recently published study the contents of Lyuba’s intestinal tract were analysed. Based on the contents, researchers tried to determine in what kind of environment Lyuba lived. They made pollen, phytolith (mineral found from plant bodies), plant fossil, and mineral analysis on the intestinal contents. Based on these analyses, the environment where Lyuba lived was reconstructed.
Phytolith analysis showed, that there were mosses, grasses, sedges, and herbs in the intestinal tract. There were also some evidence of dry environment and acid soil conditions. Pollen analysis showed mostly tree and shrub species of which most abundant were conifers from pine family (Pinaceae) and two birch species (Betula pubescens and Betula nana). The pollen of most of these species travels far, so it is difficult to determine local environment based on them. Pollen of Betula nana (dwarf birch) doesn’t travel that far so it is indicative of local environment. There are lot of modern species of the region present in the pollen. Luyba lived in a region which was covered by grasses and sedges. There were also other herbaceous plants living in the area here and there and also dwarf birch.
In Lyuba’s intestinal tract there were some mosses which also live in modern arctic tundra and boreal forest. There were some seeds from such sedges and herbacoeus plants that also are arctic tundra and boreal forest species. Among found plants were species from both wet and dry environments. There were also some animal remains in the intestinal tract, including Daphnia species, worm remains, parts from insects and spiders, and one small mammal bone (Microtus sp.). Luyba was too young to eat plants, so it is probable (and there were some evidence found suggesting this) that Lyuba got the found species to its intestinal tract by eating the feces of adult mammoths. Modern baby elephants do that also.
Reference: Pavel A. Kosintsev, Elena G. Lapteva, Svetlana S. Trofimova, Oksana G. Zanina, Aleksey N. Tikhonov and Johannes Van der Plicht, Environmental Reconstruction Inferred From The Intestinal Contents Of The Yamal Baby Mammoth Lyuba (Mammuthus Primigenius Blumenbach, 1799), Quaternary International, 2011, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.03.027. [abstract]