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Ice Age wildebeest relatives had the strangest nasal structure as per the findings of a new study published in the Current Biology journal.
The wildebeest ancient cousins have been unearthed at a site located in Rusinga Island, Kenya. The fossils of 24 individuals had been buried in the ancient streambed for 55,00 to 75,000 years.
Scientifically dubbed Rusingoryx, the Ice Age wildebeest relatives had the strangest nasal structures. The most peculiar detail about Rusingoryx’s nasal structure is that it resembles that of a dinosaur more than that of any mammal. Shaped as a crescent, the protrusion found on top of the ancient wildebeest’s head has never been observed in any other mammal. However, a group of duckbilled dinosaurs known as hadrosaurs presented the same feature.
Haley O’Brien, paleontologist with the Ohio University and lead researcher on the study stated:
“To see a hollow nasal crest outside of dinosaurs and in a mammal that lived so recently is very bizarre”.
The wildebeest relatives roamed the African savannah 75,000 to 55,000 years ago. The hadrosaurs which sported a similar nasal structure lived 75 million years ago. It’s fascinating that Rusingoryx, Lambeosaurus and Corythosaurus shared similar nasal crests albeit living in such different ages.
The nasal structure of the ancient wildebeest is another captivating example of convergent evolution. Organisms evolving in different time periods and independent of each other are capable of developing similar features which help adaptation to ecological niches. Rusingoryx and the duckbilled dinosaurs Lambeosaurus and Corythosaurus had to adapt to similar environments.
Against this background, the researchers believe that the hollow nasal crest could have served the same purpose as it did with the hadrosaurs: communication. Both the hadrosaurs and Rusingoryx were herbivores travelling in herds over long distances. Effective communication would have been paramount to ensure the herd’s survival.
As such, the ancient wildebeest would have used its unusual nasal structure to produce a trumpeting sound at different frequencies. O’Brien mentioned that some of the sounds produced due to the hollow nasal crest may have been heard only by members of the herd and no other species around.
Before the researchers established that Rusingoryx’s nasal structure helped with communication, several other theories were taken into consideration. One of them thought that the complex structure would have been useful for warming and cooling inhaled air. As the ancient wildebeest lived in the African savannah, its head adornment could have worked as an in-built air conditioner. However, the internal anatomy of the dome didn’t support this theory.
Hoofed herbivores are often engaging in head-to-head confrontations. From this perspective, the nasal crest of Rusingoryx could have been a combat weapon. Yet, the analysis of the skulls unearthed on Rusinga Island showed they were too thin to sustain combat.
Although the Ice Age wildebeest relatives had the strangest nasal structure, effective communication with members of the herd was singled out by the research team. A thorough analysis of the nasal structure suggested that the trumpeting sound would have had a frequency between 250 and 750 hertz.
Photo Credits: Eurekalert