New fossils of gigantic rhinos found in the northwestern Gansu province suggest that the country was home to one of the largest land mammals ever to walk the Earth tens of millions of years ago, according to a new study published Thursday.
The new species, named Paraceratherium linxiaense, was discovered in Gansu’s Linxia region, according to the study published in Nature’s Communications Biology journal. Scientists had studied a fully preserved skull along with an articulated mandible and atlas to draw conclusions for the study.
The ancient giant rhinos mostly lived in Asia — including China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan — and date back 26.5 million years, according to the study led by Deng Tao, a researcher at Beijing-based Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. Researchers described the rhinos as “more derived than other species within this genus in having a larger body size.”
Part of the neck of the giant rhino. From the Institution of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology
As one of the largest land animals ever, these mammoth rhinos weighed up to 24 tons — the combined weight of four of the largest African elephants — and their heads could stretch as high as 7 meters tall. The average height of a giraffe — the tallest land animal on Earth — is 4.3 to 5.8 meters, according to National Geographic.
The study indicated that there used to be a wide range of open woodlands in Northwest China at that time, and the rhinos’ size was well-suited for the environment. The research also suggested that the Tibetan region was not yet established as a high-elevation plateau back then.
“The largest land mammal might have been able to migrate freely… and even through some lowlands within what is now the plateau,” according to the study.
Previously, Deng and his team had also reported the discovery of a 4.6 million-year-old three-toed horse from Tibet, and a tandem-horned elasmothere rhino from the late Miocene epoch of northwestern China.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: The resconstruction of the Oligocene giant rhinos, painted by Chen Yu. From Institution of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology)