This original giraffe was real stubborn – knowledge of SWR

Is it a rhinoceros in primitive times? The researchers reconstructed the appearance of the original giraffe and found that the warring animal had a disc-shaped skull, and possibly a horn, that it used like a beating ram.

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The primitive giraffe didn’t get its name “Diskokeryx xiezhi” by chance. The namesake is an Asian mythical animal that looks like a rhinoceros. Because what distinguishes this strange ancestor of the giraffe today is the thick disk-shaped structure on the head, which the research team was able to reconstruct. It looks like a kind of rhinoceros disk – a dome-shaped horn sits on this disk.

Brain Battle Tactics

Surprisingly, the ancestor of the giraffe looked completely different from the modern giraffe. Primitive giraffes did not have such a long neck. They used their thick skulls like battered rams to fight, explains paleontologist Manuela Eaglestorfer of the Museum of Natural History in Mainz. Like caribou, giraffes are said to attack each other – with tremendous force, unmatched by other previously known vertebrates.

Mix of giraffe and goat

Excavations have been underway in the Jonggar Basin in northwest China for nearly 30 years, with unique fossil discoveries. Paleontologists from Germany, the United States and Switzerland are conducting research under Chinese leadership. In a complex process, the small finds were used to reconstruct the shape of the giraffe.

According to researchers, the stature of the giraffe in prehistoric times was very similar to that of the okapi.


IMAGO / imagebroker

The appearance is very similar to that of an okapi, explains Manuela Eaglestorfer. However, in terms of coloring, one prefers to assume the spot pattern of today’s giraffe, because it lives more in an open area. The stature can be imagined as a mixture of a giraffe and a goat. The neck was made of thick tubular vertebrae that should absorb the intense shocks of a collision.

Why today’s giraffe has a long neck?

Anatomical differences allow important conclusions to be drawn about the unique necks of today’s giraffes. Every child knows that the neck is so long that animals in the savannah can also reach the leaves higher in the trees. But there could be another explanation, says Manuela Eaglestorfer.

The social behavior of animals can also be crucial. In ancient giraffes, this had a huge impact on the shape of the skull and neck. This can also be passed on to today’s giraffes. Finally, necks today are also used for combat. So fighting was probably one of the main reasons why the giraffe’s neck grew over the course of evolution. The benefits of getting food may be a “only” welcome side effect.

Giraffes tighten their necks when they fight.  (Photo: IMAGO, IMAGO / imagebroker)

When fighting, giraffes stroke their long necks together. In this way, for example, two males compete for a female giraffe. A long-necked giraffe might have a better chance.


IMAGO / imagebroker

Researchers want to better understand how ecosystems are changing

Not only does the paleontologist’s work allow us to draw conclusions about evolutionary relationships in giraffes – the evolution of animals can provide a glimpse into our future.

Researchers are trying to understand the ecosystems of that time in order to draw conclusions about changes in today’s ecosystems. For example, what migrations there are from Asia to Europe and what we can learn from them to address the challenges we face today – for example in relation to climate change and change in ecosystems, says Manuela Eaglestorfer.

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