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Dwarfing on Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island is situated in the Artic Ocean, 140 km north of the Russian coastline. Dwarfed forms of mammoth, measuring 1.8-2.3 m at the shoulder, existed alongside Mammuthus primigenius who was only 2.65 m high at the shoulder. Fossilised teeth belonging to the dwarfed form were 30% smaller than those belonging to M. primigenius (Vartanyan et al., 1993). Remains of M. primigenius found on the island date from 20000 years ago during the Late Glacial Maximum (Vartanyan, 1995). Up until approximately 13000 years ago, Wrangel Island was still connected to the mainland of Russia. However by 12000 years ago, this connection had been broken and dwarfed forms existed there up to 7000 years ago. 5000 years is thought to be long enough for insular dwarfism to have occurred. ‘By 9500 years before present, mammoth had vanished totally from the mainland and most of the Artic Islands’ (Vartanyan et al., 1993). It has been hypothesised that the herbaceous plants that existed on the island created a tundra-steppe habitat that enabled the mammoths to survive solely on Wrangel Island. ‘Although oppressed and dwarfed, woolly mammoth could exist on Wrangel Island until at least 3,700 years ago’ (Vartanyan et al, 1993). This means that Wrangel Island was the last place that Woolly mammoths survived, albeit dwarfed.

References and Resources

  • Vartanyan, S.L. 1995. Radiocarbon dating evidence for mammoths on Wrangel Island, Artic Ocean, until 2000 BC. Radiocarbon. 37, 1-6.
  • Vartanyan, S.L., Garutt, V.E. and Sher, A.V. 1993. Holocene dwarf mammoths from Wrangel Island in the Siberian Artic. Nature. 362, 337-340.

  • Authored by Emma Kerridge & Chris Rogers

    Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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