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Evolution: a battle for the owners of the modified neck of the giraffe

Evolution: a battle for the owners of the modified neck of the giraffe

Giraffes are the largest land creatures on Earth, and their physical structure is unique in the animal kingdom. For a long time, the neck of a giraffe was considered a prime example of the evolution and adaptation of an animal species to its environment – yes Charles Darwin It is believed that the maximum length of the neck was probably used mainly by animals to get more leaves in the treetops.

This is according to the paleontologist Shi Kui Wang by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but explains to science.ORF.at: “In addition to foraging, other factors also play a role in the development of giraffes. Evolution has been more complex than many think.”

The stubborn ancestors of the giraffe

Wang came to this conclusion after he and an international research team were able to closely examine the remains of a previously unknown ancestor of modern-day giraffes. Researchers have named species that died out in the . period mucin He lived in what is now northern China, Discokeryx xiezhi. The the findings They are currently presenting the study in the journal Science.

The age of the fossils of the ancestors of the giraffe is about 17 million years. The remains of the skull and vertebrae indicate that the animals had a particularly resistant head. Researchers have found evidence of bony head protection, comparable to a helmet. In addition, the animals seem to have a very complex and flexible relationship between their neck and their spine.

Headbot is a king among vertebrates

Based on the fossils found, researchers believe they found the king among previously known vertebrates. Hardly any animal skeletons have been so well improved to fight off violent head injuries. The special contact of the head and vertebra allowed the animals to absorb a great deal of shock energy, and the orthopedic helmet on the skull provided additional protection.

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Physical requirements were relevant to giraffe ancestors, among other things, when seeking sexual partners, according to Wang. Perhaps the males had to drive out competitors who courted the same partner with strong limbs. A behavior that today’s giraffes sometimes exhibit.

A special place in the animal kingdom

According to Wang, the newly discovered species probably shouldn’t have had to suffer from a lack of food. This is indicated by studies of dental remains. The ancestors of the giraffe did not have a particularly long neck at that time, but according to Wang, they found enough grass in places where few animals could eat.

Skull shape and special vertebrae Discokeryx xiezhi But it also differs in some respects from other extant species that are considered the ancestors of giraffes. So Wang postulates that animals have constantly evolved and changed to always find their own niche in foraging and to avoid stronger animals in the fight for food.

complex development

According to Wang, reaching for leaves in the treetops is certainly one of the reasons for today’s long necks of giraffes. However, other factors that had a significant impact on the appearance of animals should not be ignored. The buttoned vertebrae and the unique head shape of the giraffe ancestors also played a role in the evolution of the long neck.

However, according to Wang, the study also shows that other behaviors occur in animals with an altered appearance. Rather than simply fighting head-on, modern giraffes often demonstrate their dominance over competitors by butting their long necks together.

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