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Miniature woolly mammoths once roamed Crete

Dog-sized hippos, dumbos also wandered holiday paradise

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Minute woolly mammoths roamed the Greek holiday island of Crete 1 to 2 million years ago, boffins have claimed after examining fossilised teeth and a leg bone.

Standing 1.13m (3ft 8") tall and weighing 130kg (20st 4lbs), the furry, curly-tusked creatures would have been about one-third the size of the full-blown mammoths who lived in places such as Siberia and reached heights of 3.2m (10ft). The tiny Mammuthus creticus would have shared the Mediterranean islands with dwarf hippos and deer.

Remains of dwarf mammoths have been found on islands off California and Siberia, but the Cretan Woolly Mammoth would have been the smallest mammoth of them all, say the scientists in an article published this week.

After poring over ridge patterns in teeth and a recently discovered forelimb bone, researchers Victoria Herridge and Adrian Lister from London's Natural History Museum have concluded that what they had originally thought was a small elephant was in fact a dwarf mammoth.

The ridges and loops found on the tooth enamel are only found in mammoth tusks.

“This creature would look like a baby Asian elephant, only chunkier and with curvy tusks,” Herridge told Nature.

Dating from around the early Pleistocene period, the tiny woolly mammoth would have shared the island with tiny hippos and tiny elephants, as dwarfism is a trait often occuring on islands.

One theory on the frequency of dwarfism on islands posits that natural selection favours small creatures that can get by in a small place with limited resources. Animals grow bigger from generation to generation on big continents, where the need to defend territory from predators is more important.

“Anything that gets stuck on an island can be affected by dwarfism," Martin Sander, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Bonn in Germany told Nature. ®

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