Artistic reconstruction of what the giant rhinoceros Paraceratherium linxiaense would look like in its habitat. Credit: Yu Chen
There will be those who may think that it is not worthwhile to continue studying fossils, that we already know everything we could know and that what we have left to learn are small details, interesting things for specialists and little else. But finds like the one found in China, of a rhinoceros almost five meters high and almost eight meters long, are not exactly a minor matter.
When we think of gigantism, of the existence of species that are, in essence, much larger versions of other species – with nuances and biological adaptations, of course – dinosaurs, the “giant lizards” always come to mind. But Mammals have grown to enormous sizes too – in fact, the blue whale is the largest animal that has ever existed, as far as we know – and giant land mammals exist too.
But a five meter tall rhino, that’s something else. Because in fact, Giant rhinos were already known to exist, but compared to Paraceratherium linxiaense, which is the name that has been assigned to this species, they are not “giants”.
This giant rhinoceros roamed the lands that now form China about 25 million years ago, and there must have been the mega-fauna – pun intended – dominant.
Ah! Y a curious detail: it is a rhinoceros, that is, this species belongs to the same group and is quite close to current rhinos … but it looks like it didn’t have a horn. Researchers can’t tell for sure, but from all the tests they’ve done, they wouldn’t have a horn.
The discovery of this species does not have any special anecdote, but yes there is an interesting detail. During an excavation at a site, fossil bones were found – an atlas, which is the first cervical vertebra; a jaw; remains of other vertebrae … – that did not quite fit with the known, but it was hard to tell if they were of a new species. Until a skull was dug up.
An especially well-preserved skull. A skull that, when starting to study it, already made it clear that it had not been seen before, that it was not the skull of an already known species. They had just unearthed a new species, and only with a skull and not excessively exhaustive analysis, it was possible to know. And that is not normal.
But still, and as is your task, specialists analyzed the skull in detail. It was similar to another species of large rhino, but not as gigantic as what they had found. Y Being in such good condition, the researchers were able to approximate the size. A record for a rhinoceros: five meters high, almost eight long.
Also they were able to extrapolate the weight that the animal should have, another data that demonstrates gigantism: 24 tons, about the same as four adult elephants. And by how they were the vertebrae that they found, they deduced that could lift his head to a height of seven meters – The five meters of height that we have commented are up to the shoulders, up to the withers, which is how animals are measured. Reaching this height would allow him to reach the tops of the tallest trees, and therefore he should not be short of food.
At some point in its history, this species began a migration, left China, and headed for the Indian subcontinent. In Pakistan and India fossils of the other large rhinos have been found, but not as huge as this one, which we have talked about before. And unfortunately, all these species ended up going extinct.
But they have left some really interesting fossils.