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Meet the mini mammoth

09 May 2012

The smallest mammoth known to have existed has been discovered by scientists at the Natural History Museum, according to new research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Mammuthus creticus was roughly the size of a modern baby African or Asian elephant, standing a little over a metre tall at the shoulders, and may have roamed Crete as early as 3.5 million years ago.  The species was identified by re-examining fossil teeth in the Natural History Museum collection that were originally collected by legendary fossil hunter Dorothea Bate in 1904. The research team also retraced Bate’s footsteps on Crete to find new fossil evidence that enabled them to reconstruct the size of the dwarf mammoth.

"Dwarfism is a well-known evolutionary response of large mammals to island environments," says palaeontologist and lead researcher Dr Victoria Herridge. "Our findings show that on Crete, island dwarfism occurred to an extreme degree, producing the smallest mammoth known so far."

"We’ve tended to think of the really tiny Mediterranean dwarf elephants as having descended from the straight-tusked elephant. Using the Museum’s collections alongside new measurements of an upper arm bone we found when we went back to Crete, we now know that Bate’s specimens are mammoths with similarities to larger species. The arm bone in particular gives us the best evidence so far for how big – or rather, how small – this dwarf mammoth really was."