The ancient giraffe family has a long neck for fighting

The ancient bones of a distant ancestor of the modern giraffe offer scientists evidence of why the animal’s long neck developed.

Scientists say that these fossils, found in China, suggest that the long neck was useful for competitions between men.

Researchers recently described fossils including a thick skull or head bones and strong neck bones. They belonged to an early member of the giraffe family called Discokeryx xiezhi. The creature lived about 17 million years ago in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China.

Discokerix’s strong skull and strong neck bones were fine adapted to direct high-speed accidents. They were like competitions between males of some mammal species for halves, the researchers said.

They explained that Discokeryx has the most complex neck bones of any mammal. This was the case with the joints between the head and neck, as well as between the individual bones of the neck.

Discokeryx means “disc-horn”, while xiezhi is a unicorn creature in traditional Chinese history. The skull of Discokeryx had a large round and thick bone structure known as aspen. This is the name of the horn-like objects on top of the giraffe’s heads.

Shi-Chi Wang Wang, lead author of the study, published in Science, said: “Osikons, like horns and horns, usually serve as weapons for men who fight for halves.”

Research co-author Gene Mann said the traditional idea of ​​why modern giraffes have such long necks is that long necks are good for eating tree leaves. “The disco kernel probably ate grass,” Mann explained.

Mann added: “This new discovery shows that in the giraffe family, members do different things in the beginning evolution. The new look is an extreme example in which the neck … becomes too thick to absorb its strength impact from a powerful blow to the head. “

Another idea for the evolution of the giraffe’s neck – one supported by the bone structure of Discokeryx – is that the elongation of the neck is due to the behavior shown in the partner race, such as the “neck” observed in giraffes today. In such competitions, men fiercely hit each other with their necks. Men with longer necks often win in these battles.

“If the male giraffe has a shorter neck, then the female can refuse the request to mate the male,” Wang said.

Neck lengthening or lengthening evolved independently among several groups of animals hundreds of millions of years ago.

Discokeryx, the researchers said, could offer information on the early development of giraffe neck lengthening, which has occurred over millions of years.

However, Discokeryx took a different evolutionary path, specializing in hitting the head. It is not considered a direct ancestor of today’s giraffe, but rather a side development of the giraffe family.

The modern giraffe, found in sub-Saharan Africa, is the world’s tallest living terrestrial animal. Males can grow up to 5.5 meters and females up to 4.3 meters. The giraffe’s neck, which extends about 1.8 meters, has only seven neck bones like other mammals.

The discokerix lived in open pastures with small groups of trees during a time known as the Miocene period. He lived alongside ancient elephants, rhinos, pigs, deer and horses. Predators at the time it included saber-toothed cats, hyenas, and a member of a group of mammals called “dog bears,” a creature as large as a modern polar bear.

I’m John Russell.

Will Dunham told this story to Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in this story

giraffe – н. a very tall African animal that has an extremely long neck and legs

fossil – n. something (such as a leaf, skeleton or imprint) that is from a plant or animal that lived in ancient times and that you can see in some rocks

evolution – н. the process by which changes in plants and animals occur over time

adapt—V. to change (something) so that it works better or is more appropriate for a particular purpose

impact – н. the action or power of one thing striking another

predator – н. an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals: an animal that plunders other animals

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