Lone Male Mammoths More Risk-Taking, Fell Into More Traps Than Females
Researchers find that the preserved woolly mammoths in Siberia were mostly males. This suggests that male mammoths were more prone to falling into natural traps than female mammoths.
More Males Than Females
Most of the remains of woolly mammoths and other animals from the Ice Age did not survive. This includes their teeth, tusks, and bones. That said, scientists are still able to recover woolly mammoth remains which they believe belonged to the creatures that were buried and thus were more protected.
While studying the fossil records of woolly mammoths recovered from mainland Siberia and Wrangel Island, researchers did not expect any gender bias among the remains. However, they found that among the 98 woolly mammoths studied, 7 out of 10 were males. This is even more interesting given that woolly mammoth birth rates were equal for males and females.
Safer Among The Females
The discovery suggests that perhaps woolly mammoths' social structure is similar to that of modern-day elephants, which is quite matriarchal. It is believed that the woolly mammoths thrived in sex-segregated groups where females and their young group together with a dominant, more experienced female. This grouping provides protection for the herd.
In contrast, although a loosely associated male may sometimes join the group of the females, researchers surmise that just like modern-day elephants, male woolly mammoths could have lived alone or in bachelor groups. Without an experienced female to lead them, they are believed to have engaged in more risky behavior. This could have led to more of them accidentally dying in natural traps such as lakes, crevices, and bogs.
Sex Bias Among Other Creatures
Because of their findings, researchers believe that this social structure could also highlight similar social structures among other already-extinct creatures. For instance, records of the extinct wild horse Equus occidentalis were also predominantly male.
On the other hand, there were twice as many females than males among the 300 bison remains found in La Brea Tar Pits. Upon further study, it is believed that the herd of adult females and calves were passing through the region during migration, when the asphalt got sticky and trapped them in the area. This also suggests another female-dominated social structure.
Researchers are cautious about drawing conclusions from their findings as they continue studying the fossil remains of the extinct creatures. Although only tentative conclusions may be drawn from their current data, they believe that their findings are important in trying to understand the extinct creatures' social structure.
The study is published in Current Biology.