Picture this: You’ve taken a time machine back 80,000 years, and you find yourself on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. You look up to the steep hills above you and notice something strange. It appears to be a baby mammoth, and yet there’s something not quite right about it.

As it turns out, it is not, indeed, a baby mammoth at all. What you are looking at is a species all it’s own, it’s a Channel Island Pygmy Mammoth.

The mammoths we remember from our elementary school science books were probably a species we call Columbian Mammoths: 4 meters tall at the shoulder with tusks equally as long. But these island dwellers were the strange, diminutive cousins of the giants that made their home on the mainland, standing a little under six feet tall (1.7 meters).

So, how do you shrink a mammoth?

Well, these pygmy mammoths are just one example of the strange impact island living can have on species.

The oldest pygmy mammoth fossil remains found on the Channel Islands are 80,000 years old. At first, this was a very confusing find to scientists.

How had mammoths made their way to the islands in the first place? And how had they shrunk to such small sizes?

Well, these friends, like many of the other species through history that have been isolated on islands, have followed the evolutionary path of Foster’s Law. Due to the unique circumstances of island life, they adapted smaller frames to suit their environments!

To explain more about Foster’s Law, the pygmy mammoths of the Channel Islands, and to take a look at a few other unique pygmy species, we have this great video from PBS Eons. They are one of our favorite YouTube channels, so if this video gets you curious to learn more about the prehistoric world, go check them out!

Via: PBS Eons 1

As I mentioned before the video we love PBS Eons in our office! We think they put out some amazing work so please go follow them on YouTube or check out their Patreon!

From pushing species to evolve incredible adaptations, to giving rise to the sheer diversity of life, the forces of evolution are a marvel.

It can be difficult to contemplate our world looking any different than it does now, but just a century ago the landscapes surrounding many of us were completely different. Changes in farming practices, the growth of cities and suburbs, and the impact of industrialization, have all changed our world.

Now, imagine how different the world would have looked hundreds of thousands of years ago!

The Gift that Keeps On Giving!

Fossils! There are mysteries for us in these ancient treasures that constantly challenge our notions about what is possible, and leave us with new questions!

Discover how they’ve helped us learn about the world and the changes the creatures who roam it have gone through by checking out some of my favorite articles on evolution!

To start, have you ever wondered how bats and birds both evolved flight without being related to each other? The reason is fascinating! Learn all about convergent evolution in this article:

9 minutes

Meet One of Nature’s Most Confusing Creatures

Have you heard of the Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine? These wolf-like creatures are actually related to koalas! How? A process called convergent evolution.

Read More

If you’re curious as to how creatures managed to evolve to look exactly like bits of trees, leaves, or bird poop, this following piece is for you.

The video we feature does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen in explaining how the process of natural selection works! I found myself way more enlightened after watching, and I took several university courses on evolution and Darwin (sorry Dr. Berry).

5 minutes

Masterful Mimics of the Natural World

There are numerous species of insects and spiders (like this little friend pictured here) who have evolved to look like other animals, the natural world, and even bird poop. But how has this happened? And why?

Read More

And how have the different continents played into the species we see today?

Yeah, I hadn’t thought much about the way the ground beneath our feet has been shifting over the millennia. This has had an impact on the way we see species distributed today! Go ahead and give this article a read to learn more:

7 minutes

Continental Collision Course

Not many of us stop to think about what the world looked like before our continents separated and then re-connected in a new way many years ago. Why does it still matter? Fascinating food for thought here today! Take a look...

Read More

Evolution isn’t something that happened far in the past.

Evolution is constant. There are recent studies, like this one using mice, and this one using lice (didn’t mean that to rhyme), that are looking at how quickly we can see evolutionary forces at play. Our planet is home to some fascinating animals, and the even more fascinating forces that shaped them!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Dig into more paleontology!

If you’re like us you never lost your love for the ancient animals that used to roam our planet. If you want to check out more fossil finds and what they mean for us today, check out our full Paleontology Library!

Paleontology on EWC

And make sure you receive your dose of optimism by subscribing to our mailing list! We’ll send you an email whenever we publish a new article.

Notes:

  1. PBS Eons, director. The Island of Shrinking MammothsYouTube, PBS Eons, 5 Feb. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXwoKEDtdlM. Accessed 6 Mar. 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV