(ORDO NEWS) — Modern giraffes, fighting for a female, use their long necks and strong heads to inflict powerful blows on the opponent.
It seems that their ancient relatives, who lived in China, also liked to “work with their heads”: large growths resembling a helmet grew on their foreheads, and their necks were distinguished by enviable strength.
At first glance, the long neck of the giraffe evolved with a very obvious purpose: so that the animal could reach the tops of trees while feeding.
Indeed, the possibility of “privatization” of some food resource often causes the appearance of strange body shapes in animals, for example, anteater snouts and unusual beaks in hummingbirds, so a long neck is not particularly surprising in this respect.
Another thing is that this part of the giraffe’s body plays an important role not only in everyday life, but also during the mating season, when males fight each other for a female.
Converging with each other, these huge animals, weighing a ton, seem to be wielding rubber clubs, inflicting powerful blows to the opponent’s head and neck.
The longer the neck, the thicker, harder and more painful it will hit, so males with the longest necks dominate their undersized counterparts.
Scientists now have further evidence that sexual selection may have been an important driving force behind giraffe evolution.
It was found in the north of the Dzungar Plain in China’s Xinjiang and is the skull and four cervical vertebrae of the amazing short-necked giraffe Discoceryx ( Discokeryx xiezhi ).
During life, this animal seemed to be wearing a helmet: its only ossicon (“horn” of a giraffe, which is actually ossified cartilage) has grown over the entire upper part of the head, which, combined with a very strong neck, made the discocerix very adapted to delivering high-speed frontal impacts.
By the way, other extinct animals also differed in a similar shape of the skull – herbivorous dinosaurs pachycephalosaurs , who lived 50 million years before discocerix.
Approximately a fifth of the skulls of adult pachycephalosaurs have been found to show signs of damage, proving their use for powerful headbutts.
Why did the males of this species need such a powerful weapon, superior in strength and effectiveness to the horns of today’s rams and bulls?
Perhaps the harsh conditions of life played a decisive role: when competition between individuals increases, one must fight for any opportunity to pass on one’s genes.
Although the early Miocene , the animal’s lifetime, was generally warm and humid, ancient Dzungaria became almost cut off from rain clouds due to the sharp rise of the Tibetan Plateau .
As a result, instead of lush forests, dry savannahs formed, and animals had to constantly compete with each other for resources.
Surely discocerix mating tournaments were no less cruel than modern giraffes, which can beat a competitor to unconsciousness or even death.
It appears that the direct ancestors of today’s giraffe went through a similar ordeal when the forests of East Africa turned into savannahs about 7 million years ago, and competition between herbivores for available food resources increased dramatically.
It is possible that the originally long neck developed precisely to fight competitors, until it became so long that it could also be used for gathering food.
Unfortunately, the discocerix’s domed skull provided no additional benefit, and perhaps this is the reason why Asia ended up with no giraffes left.
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