Ancient Fossil Discovered in Canada Shows Camels Lived in the Arctic Before the Desert

Most commonly associated with the desert, the camel actually first roamed Canada's High Arctic more than 3 million years ago, when the region was warmer than it is today and covered by a forest.

Bone fragments that belong to a camel nearly one-third larger than any living camels today have been recovered from a remote site in the far north of Canada. This discovery suggests that moder camels likely descended from a cold-dwelling ancestor.

The camel fossils were found in Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic by Natalia Rybczynski, a paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. They were discovered in a gravel-rich layer of sediments laid down about 3.5 million years ago. According to Rybczynski, some of these animals crossed a land bridge from what is today Alaska to eastern Siberia, which means that they were not only living, but also thriving, at latitudes where few mammals can now subsist.

John Gosse, an earth scientist at Dalhousie University and the co-author of the report on the camel that was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communication, says:

"The camel is an ambassador for climate change."

The report indicates that the camel was quite large at about 2.7 meters tall at the shoulder, which is nearly 30 percent larger than its modern relatives are. In terms of size, a modern day equivalent would be a moose.

Rybczynski explained that a larger body size would have allowed the camera to regulate its body temperature better during the winters, as well as cover larger distances walking.

The first fragment of the specimen was uncovered in 2006. Subsequent visits in 2008 and 2010 lead to the discovery of more fragments. Rybczynski and her team then assembled a collection of 30 bone fragments that fit together to resemble the tibia of a large ungulate.