Researchers have discovered by studying fossils on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea that an extinct species of dwarf elephant was actually the smallest mammoth known to have existed. As an adult, Mammuthus creticus would stand no taller than a modern newborn elephant.
M. creticus is supposed to be an extreme form of island dwarfism. It was first discovered in 1907, thanks to some fossilized teeth unearthed in Crete. It was mistakenly placed in the elephant branch. Those teeth were reanalyzed and it was discovered that they had a distinctive pattern of ridges and loops in the tooth enamel, which has so far only been seen in mammoths.
Using the tooth as a basis, researchers have approximated the pachyderm’s size. This was helped by the discovery of an upper forelimb bone last year. The mini mammoth stood about 1.13 meters in height (3.7 feet) and weighed 310 kg (683 lbs). The researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Victoria Herridge, lead paleontologist, states that the mammoth would look like a baby Asian elephant, only chunkier with curvy tusks. Organisms stuck on islands can be affected by island dwarfism. Crete played host to dwarf versions of deer, hippos, and elephants. The isolated ecosystem naturally favors smaller individuals, who consume fewer resources.
Reference: “Extreme insular dwarfism evolved in a mammoth” by Victoria L. Herridge and Adrian M. Lister, 9 May 2012, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.