Red Announcement

News for nerds

In the land of endless fossils—aka North China—a new species of giant rhinoceros has been discovered in Gansu Province that ranks among the largest terrestrial mammals to ever walk the Earth.

Belonging to an extinct genus called Paraceratherium, which means “near the hornless beast,” the new species displays some different characteristics and carries with it a potential migratory pattern that may help to explain modern mammalian distribution.

The giant rhino is known to be one of the largest land mammals that ever lived. It has primarily been found in Asia, but its evolutionary relationships remain unclear.

Tao Deng and colleagues recovered skeletal remains of a new species of giant rhino dubbed Paraceratherium linxiaense, named for the Linxia Basin in northwestern China where it was found.

“The fossils were prepared [for study] by three professional technicians under [our] supervision from December 2016 to February 2017,” Dr. Deng told GNN. “When the perfect specimens appeared in our sight, their huge size and good completeness [gave us] a great surprise.”

Deng and his colleagues had been working in the Linxia Basin since the 1980s, but have only found giant rhino remains in isolated or fragmentary situations.

At the shoulder, paraceratherium would have stood 15.7 feet tall, weighing from 15 up to 20 tons, more than the largest African elephant ever recorded.

It had a long neck, contributing to its 23 feet in length, that would have supported a skull that itself was as long as a large child.

Skulls reveal the creature had a trunk, and two tusk-like incisors, but likely no horn despite the fact that genetics have placed it in the rhinoceros family.

Despite its heft, paraceratherium lasted only about 11 million years, far less than other rhinoceros progenitors like Elasmotherium.

The authors’ analyses place this species in a group with another closely related giant rhino species called paraceratherium lepidum, which together have a close relationship with the giant rhinos of Pakistan.

These findings raise the possibility that the giant rhino could have passed through the Tibetan region before it became the elevated plateau it is today.

From there, it may have reached the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent in the Oligocene epoch (between 28 and 23 million years ago), where other giant rhino specimens have been found, and where modern rhinos until recently still lived.

This overland route could inform paleontologists of other potential mammal discoveries that, like paraceratherium, passed over the Asian continent during the Oligocene.