Giant rhino unearthed in China was one of largest mammals ever to live

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giant rhino

The ancient giant rhino Paraceratherium linxiaense lived on the Tibetan Plateau 26.5 million years ago

Yu Chen

A new species of ancient giant rhino has been discovered in north-western China. Giant rhinos, also known as indricotheres, may be the largest mammals ever to walk on land – and the new species, named Paraceratherium linxiaense, was one of the largest of its kind, only marginally smaller than Dzungariotherium orgosense, which is generally considered to be the largest of all indricotheres.

Tao Deng at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues described P. linxiaense from a completely preserved skull and jawbone found in 26.5-million-year-old deposits in the Linxia Basin of Gansu Province, China, where they had been looking for mammal fossils since the 1980s.

As with other indricotheres, P. linxiaense would have had a long neck to go with its slender skull and two cone-shaped upper first incisors. It is likely to have lived in areas of open woodland and eaten leaves high up in the trees like modern giraffes do.

“The giant rhino has no horn and it looks like a horse more than a rhino,” says Deng. “Its head can reach a height of 7 metres to browse leaves of treetops.”

The team estimates that P. linxiaense would have weighed about 21 tonnes, equivalent to the weight of four large African elephants.

“These animals would have been bigger than any land mammal that’s alive today,” says Luke Holbrook at Rowan University in New Jersey. “The only thing that might be bigger than them are the biggest mammoths.”

Since we can’t weigh these animals and have to rely on approximations from their fossils, we can’t know their actual body size.

Indricotheres are thought to have lived mostly in Asia, from Mongolia to Pakistan, but a few remains have been found in eastern Europe.

Journal reference: Communications Biology, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-02170-6

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