The Paraceratherium was a genus of prehistoric mammal that inhabited our planet in the era after the extinction of the dinosaurs, during the Cenozoic, more specifically during the Paleogene (about 34 million). It is classified within the group known as perisodactyl mammals.
This genus would have had a really big size. To give you an idea of how big it was, it is considered to be the largest mammal that has ever existed on our planet. It was 9 metres long and surprisingly tall by 5 metres.
What do you think of this peculiar prehistoric animal? Below you will find much more information about the Paraceratherium… Read on and find out all about this Paleogene mammal!
What does the name Paraceratherium mean?
The meaning of the name Paraceratherium is “almost horned beast”, a name that comes from the Greek “παρόμοιος” (parómoios) that means similar and the word “Θηρίον” (thiríon) that is understood as a beast.
History of its discovery
The first remains found were in 1908, by the paleontologist Guy Ellcock Pilgrim, in Pakistan, a discovery that impressed the scientific community due to its enormous size that could only be compared to that of the dinosaurs. In this first finding, remains of the jawbone were found and described by Clive Forster Cooper in 1911.
In 1913, the same Cooper, would describe another fossil found of this great mammal, which were a leg bone, an atlas vertebra and an astragalus bone. Cooper concluded that it was another genus of the hyracodontidae family, different from the Paraceratherium, so he called it Baluchitherium.
Then in 1915 an expedition led by the Russian Academy of Sciences would find a complete skeleton, without the skull. Fossils that were described in 1916 by Alekseeivich Borissiak, who determined that it was a new genus which he called Indricotherium in reference to a mythological creature called “Indrik bestia”.
Let’s summarize a little, so far three important fossil remains were found, the first was called Paraceratherium bugtiense, later there would be two more findings but these were classified as other genera different from the first. This caused confusion in the scientific community. But were they really different genera, let’s see…
Many paleontologists, because of the physiological characteristics, take it for granted that it is the same animal. Although many media, books and documentaries have tended to confuse more as they use any of these three names to refer to such a creature.
This confusion was resolved in 1980, when researchers S. Lucas G. and J. C. Sobus, verified that both the Paraceratherium and Indricotherium are the same animal. These in turn were the same Paraceratherium. Paraceratherium and Indricotherium were then left as taxonomic synonyms of the former. Bearing in mind that the oldest name will always have more priority when it comes to naming any species scientifically.
Where and when did he live?
It lived in the upper Oligocene approximately 34 million years ago. It lived in Asia and part of Europe.
Its habitat was characterized by being arid and with little flatness. It was rare to find trees in these areas and the few that were found were near water sources. The climate of these areas was dry and rainy seasons.
What did he eat?
Due to the dental characteristics of this mammal it was concluded that it was a herbivore, which used its large front teeth to pull out plants, as rhinos and giraffes do today.
About the diet of the Paraceratherium, we must say that it depends a lot on its size, for example the smaller (young) ones fed on the herbs and bushes near the ground. On the contrary, the larger ones find it difficult to feed on lower plants, so their favorite foods were the leaves and branches of trees.
The Paraceratherium holds the title of being the largest mammal of all times, it reached a height of up to 5.4 to 7 meters, reached lengths of 9 meters and could weigh up to 20 tons.
The Paraceratherium is often referred to as a relative of the rhinoceros, with the only difference being that it does not have a horn. Its skull could reach about 1.3 meters long and 61 centimeters wide. This ancient giant had a pair of strong conical canines and elongated incisors, which were used to chew food.
In addition, it also had two pairs of relatively large incisors, the upper incisors were oriented in a straight line downward and the upper jaw was oriented forward. This formed a trap that allowed him to pull out the branches of the trees very easily.
Many paleontologists point out that this animal was able to manipulate food with its lips before taking it inside its mouth, thanks to its muscular lips. This theory is supported by current animals that have this characteristic.
Its atlas bone and the vertebrae that make up its neck and shoulders were large and wide, which allowed it to reduce the weight it supported. In addition, there are spaces in which powerful muscles that helped to support the head, neck and torso were probably attached.
This one had a small hump, being more specific its body had a descendent inclination, that ends with a small tail. Its body was robust and rough, it is believed that it had gray skin and hairless, very similar to that of elephants.
It had long, strong, flexible legs. They helped support the great weight of her body. They allowed him to take big steps that surely made it much easier for him to make big movements without burning so much energy. Moreover, thanks to the flexible structure of these, the Paraceratherium was able to gallop with great agility despite its large size.
How it behaved
It is believed that most of the day he rested under the shade of the trees to regulate his temperature, even dipping into the water or mud.
In addition, because of his great strides, he found it very easy to move from one distance to another. So it is presumed that it had a migratory life. It is believed that he was solitary and did not move in herds.
This animal was the king in that era, virtually no predators could tackle it, however, the smaller youngsters were targeted. So these always remained in their mother’s care over a long period of time.
With regard to mating, the female gave the signals that she was in heat and several males were attracted in order to reproduce so it is believed that there were confrontations between males of the same species.
The gestation period was approximately 1 year, once they gave birth to their offspring they remained with the mother who fed and cared for them, until they could fend for themselves, a period that could last approximately 2 years.
Like rhinos, elephants or hippopotamuses, this animal allowed itself to be helped by other birds that ate any remaining food, parasites and other things that were on its back.
Finally, knowing that its habitat was arid and dry, it is very probable that this giant animal had the ability to endure long periods of time without consuming water. Which gave it the opportunity to search for water without dying in the attempt.
The theory of its extinction
It is still not very clear how these giants could have disappeared with so many advantages over other species. However, many researchers have dared to launch several theories.
Some attribute their extinction to the climate change that gradually changed their habitat and consequently made their survival more difficult. Considering that their habitat was difficult.
On the other hand it is believed that she had a very low birth rate, usually a female gave birth to one pup and if she was lucky two. Adding to the long process of maturation, so that gradually this was decreasing the population, which had to face increasingly extreme factors that increased their death rate, a rate that was not compensated with their birth rate.
Finally, the hypothesis that many new species arrived in the territories where they lived is also used, one example being the gonphotheriums, which would be a species related to today’s elephants.
These gonphotheriums were able to change the habitat and the dynamics of life to which the animal was accustomed. In addition, more agile and strong predators like Hyaenaelurus also arrived and surely killed many young.
Perhaps one of these factors alone could not have made this species extinct, but most certainly the combination of these played an important role in the disappearance of this great animal.
Some curiosities about the Paraceratherium
The Paraceratherium, was the main character of the third chapter of the series “walking with the beasts”, the curious thing is that in this chapter it is called with the name of Indricotherium, already knowing the confusions about the name of this animal.
The AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport), from the legendary “Star Wars” tape, was inspired by the shape of this mammal’s body.
the name Indricotherium, was inspired by the name of a monster from Russian mythology, called “Indrik”, whose creature is considered the strongest in the world and the ancestor of all living animals.