Tet Zoo picture of the day # 3

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The skull of the immense Pleistocene rhino Elasmotherium sibiricum, with reconstructed horn, as displayed at the Natural History Museum in London. Relatively well known as fossil rhinos go, E. sibiricum is the largest and best known species of the diverse rhinocerotid clade Elasmotheriina. I have a post planned on elasmotheres, it's called 'Giant unicorn rhino and pals', but I don't know when I'll get round to posting it. I have rhinos on my mind at the moment: on Wednesday I'm attending Save the Rhino's Mayday event at the Zoological Society's meeting hall at Regent's Park.

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Darren, thanks for these daily pix. They give me a little something to nibble on between the main courses.

Tet Zoo #1, "dinosaur bird with hairballs" irresistably made me think about being awakened at 2 a.m. by unmentionable cat-noises downstairs. So as to flesh out this bizarre mental image, exactly how big is a dromaeosaur? When I go downstairs to clean up after him, do I need a paper towel, or a shovel?


By Noni Mausa (not verified) on 28 May 2007 #permalink

I notice the nostrils are separated because the premaxillae and the nasals meet. How unmammalian. (It's clearly secondary, though.)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 May 2007 #permalink

So how do they know the horn was shaped like that? Have preserved examples been found?

Good lady Amalthea, what a horn...but is it more probable than the massive, conical affair shown by most other reconstructions?

A horn from a permafrost deposit would help, but none have been found for the last 300 years or so; they must have been commoner in medieval times, for Ibn Fadlan (usually reliable) claimed the Volgar Bulgars used composite bows made from "unicorn horn". Ibn Fadlan visited the Volgar Bulgar state - a muslim outpost in the urals, isolated from the rest of the muslim world by the jewish Khazar empire - as a member of an embassy from the Abbasid Caliph, and can be considered an eyewitness.

At early reconstructions (for example, made by Flerov, Russian paleontologist and artist), horn of Elasmotherium looks short, wide and helmet-like, by the way.

By Pavel I. Volkov (not verified) on 29 May 2007 #permalink

No Elasmotherium horn is known. If you look very carefully at the information panel in the photo, you might be able to see some discussion of the horn morphology in this taxon. It's been proposed that the animal had a low, boss-like mass, a tall slender horn, or a broad-based massive horn. There is, however, one cave painting, and it shows a gently curved horn that is more slender than the version reconstructed by (e.g.) Burian. I don't recall it being as slender as the horn reconstructed lifesize here however.

I've seen so many paintings and pictures of reconstructions of Wooly Rhinos...its very nice to finally see what the skull itself looks like. Thank you.

One tiny question - do you think that Elasmotherium experienced anything like musth? I made a reference to such a thing in a fanfiction, and now I'm seriously curious about it.

have great days & be well.

By Anthony Docimo (not verified) on 29 May 2007 #permalink


while Elasmotherium certainly had fur - it would not have been able to survive an inner eurasian winter otherwise - the term "Wooly Rhinoceros" is usually used as the common name for the smaller, two horned species Coelodonta antiquitatis.

A higher level of aggressive behaviour during the mating season is not uncommon among tetrapods and might have been present in elasmotheres. Musth in the strict sense, however, is a hormonal and behaviour pattern that is peculiar to male proboscidans.

BTW, as far as the composite bows are concerned, wikipedias entry on Elasmotherium has "bowls" instead. I think this is a misspelling, high tech composite bows were of prime importance for members of turkish or - in the case of the late Abbasid caliphate - at least heavily turkified elites; eating or drinking bowls made from the remains of non-halal animals, on the other hand, were probably useless for muslims. Wikipedia also claims that the war Rhino in "300" is an Elasmotherium. This is obvious nonsense, the animal in the movie has two horns and naked skin.

the Volga[...] Bulgar state - a muslim outpost in the urals

To be precise, on the Volga, pretty much the same as today's Tatarstan.

I thought musth is limited to elephants? Do rhinos have that, too?

By David Marjanovi? (not verified) on 30 May 2007 #permalink

It is morally wrong to complain about Wikipedia. You are supposed to edit it instead. :-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 30 May 2007 #permalink

"I have a post planned on elasmotheres"
patiently waiting ....
(a bible literalist and I were discussing the KJV 'unicorn')