Frozen woolly mammoth found in Siberia could be new species

Frozen woolly mammoth found in Siberia could be new species

Posted by Chris Ciaccia on May 19th 2019

Fossils found in Siberia of a tiny woolly mammoth could be an entirely new species, researchers say, with some dubbing it a "Golden mammoth."

The woolly mammoth is tiny and has been described as a "pygmy," at just seven-feet tall. Woolly mammoths averaged between 9 and 11 feet tall, with some approaching 15 feet in height, according to TED.

This mammoth was found in Siberia on Kotelny island and could be 50,000 years old, according to experts. Like rings in a tree, scientists are able to discern a mammoth's age by looking at the rings of its tusks, going so far to tell when what season the animal died. Darker rings indicate the creature died during warmer months.

The recently discovered mammoth has been given the nickname of a "golden mammoth," due to the color of its fur.

It is now embedded in undersea permafrost and is only visible during low tide on the island, located between the Laptev and East Siberian seas.

According to Dr. Albert Protopopov, who is the Chief of the Mammoth Fauna Research Department at Yakutian Academy of Sciences, said that it's still a question of whether this mammoth was an anomaly or not, but coming across its carcass will allow them to answer questions.

"We are yet to discover whether this is an anomaly, or something quite typical for this area - when a grown up mammoth looks like a pygmy," he told the Siberian Times. "We have had reports about small mammoths found in that particular area, both grown ups and babies. But we had never come across a carcass. This is our first chance to study it."

Discoveries of smaller or pygmy mammoth remains are not uncommon. Remains have been found off the coast of California and in the Arctic, but Dr. Protopopov believes the new findings are a new species, unrelated to the so-called island effect, which has been bandied about by researchers as causing a decline in the population of mammoths, which eventually died out about 4,000 years ago.

"It is a different thing," Dr. Protopopov said, when asked about whether the new find was related to the mammoth remains found on Wrangel Island. "I think that our new mammoth is not related to the Wrangel mammoth population. This was a different era and different case."

While it's not yet known what researchers will learn from the aforementioned woolly mammoth, some scientists have pondered that reintroducing some of the mammoth's permafrost-preserved DNA could help with climate change.

Speaking with Live Science in May, George Church, a Harvard and MIT geneticist who is the co-founder of gene-editing tool CRISPR and is heading up the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team, said it may not be desirable to bring back the creature in its entirety. However, introducing a few of its genes to Asian elephants could help increase their tolerance to the cold.

"The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer," Church told Live Science. "Those two [factors] combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem."

The Siberian mammoth remains are set to be excavated from their grave next summer.