The vast majority of wooly mammoth fossils are male, a mystery that has long puzzled paleontologists. Now researchers believe they have stumbled on a simple answer, AFP reports: Boy mammoths, who mainly lived alone, were more likely to take dumb risks that got them swept into rivers or dropped down sinkholes than girl mammoths, who lived communally and followed the directions of a wise, older matriarch.
That is the conclusion reached by Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, who co-authored the groundbreaking study published Thursday in Current Biology. "Without the benefit of living in a herd led by an experienced female, male mammoths may have had a higher risk of dying in natural traps such as bogs, crevices, and lakes," Dalen said. Typical.
Sixty-nine percent of mammoth fossils belong to males, a disproportion that had previously been a Paleolithic head-scratcher, assuming that males and females were born at equal rates. Female mammoths, though, traveled together in a herd led by "an older matriarch who knew the terrain and steered her counterparts away from danger," AFP writes. Male mammoths, much like male elephants today, were more reckless, and as a result, more prone to falling into bogs where their fossils would be preserved for thousands of years.