Scientists have often wondered how woolly mammoths survived and thrived in the frigid climes of the far north in Earth’s last ice age. The hemoglobin in elephant (and human) blood cannot easily transfer oxygen to other cells in the body at low temperatures. Instead, the blood’s hemoglobin holds onto its oxygen in icy extremities and the tissue eventually dies; that’s the main reason we get frostbite. There must, then, have been something special about mammoth hemoglobin.
A cooling climate, not human hunters, were at fault for the extinction of the prehistoric cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), according to a new study. Researchers examining cave bear remains now say the giant vegetarians died from starvation and much earlier than previously thought. “The disappearance of the cave bear around 27,500 years ago was probably due to the significant decline in quantity and quality of plant food, which in turn was the result of marked climatic cooling,” [Telegraph] said researcher Anthony J. Stuart.
Previous radiocarbon dating of cave bear remains incorrectly placed their apocalypse at 14,000 years ago because some of the remains were actually those of brown bears, still alive today, that were mistakenly identified. The new study excludes previous errors and includes new data taken from remains found in ancient hibernation sites in the Alps. The new extinction date, 27,800 years ago, coincides with a period of significant climate change, known as the Last Glacial Maximum [or Ice Age], when a marked cooling in temperature resulted in a reduction or total loss of the vegetation that the cave bears ate (today’s brown bears are omnivores) [LiveScience.com].