Scientists discovered that a Late Pleistocene wildebeest shares nasal crest with duck-billed dinosaurs despite the species evolving million of years apart. The study emphasized the uniquely impressive nasal crest of the Rusingoryx atopocranion species first unearthed in 2009 near Kenya’s Lake Victoria.
Buried deep in the Bovid Hill, the site of an ancient streambed, the fossil found in 1983 was so intriguing that scientists felt compelled to look for other fossils pertaining to the species. Later, J.Tyler Faith with the University of Queensland, Australia and Haley O’Brien with the Ohio University were in for a feat. The same site at the Bovid Hill yielded skulls and partial fossilized fragments of 24 individuals of the Rusingoryx atopocranin species.
An ancient hoofed mammal related to the present-day wildebeest had a nasal crest never before witnessed in a mammal. Nor are there any modern-day examples of such an intriguing nasal structure. The scientific team believes the findings are an excellent example of convergent evolution.
Scientifically termed convergent evolution is the process by which unrelated species, possibly evolving millions of years apart, develop highly similar traits under similar environmental conditions. Against this background, a Late Pleistocene wildebeest shares nasal crest with duck-billed dinosaurs is a perfect instance of convergent evolution.
The Late Pleistocene began approximately 2.6 million years ago and lasted until 11,700 years ago. In this timeframe, carbon dating approximates the age of the ancient wildebeest relative found at Kenya’s Bovid Hill between 75,000 years and 55,000 years.
Surprisingly, a similar nasal crest was only discovered in hadrosaurs, a sub-type of duck-billed dinosaurs which lived 75 million years ago. Although these are mere hypotheses, the nasal structure ended with a nasal crest is believed to have served the purpose of communication.
Both the ancient wildebeest relative and the duck-billed dinosaurs would have been highly social creatures. Large herbivores roaming their territory in herds, these animals would have found communication paramount for survival.
The trumpet-like nasal structure of the Rusingoryx atopocranin extended all the way to the top of the head. Their overall purpose would have replicated a resonance chamber producing trumpet-like sounds to alert other members of the herd.
The fact that the Late Pleistocene wildebeest shares nasal crest with duck-billed dinosaurs is an exciting finding. Haley O’Brien stated:
“The nasal dome is a completely new structure for mammals-it doesn’t look like anything you could see in an animal that’s alive today”.
After discussing other hypotheses related to the function of the unusual nasal crest, computer tomography scans revealed the exact structure of the bones. The hollow nasal crest with an intricate mechanism of the nasal structure would have been used almost surely to help the Rusingoryx atopocranin communicate even at low-frequency infrasounds. This unique feature in a mammal would have helped stealth communication. While other members of the herd could hear each other, predators wouldn’t have heard a sound.
As the Late Pleistocene wildebeest shares nasal crest with duck-billed dinosaurs, it becomes clearer that effective communication would have been the main function of the full nasal structure ended with the nasal crest.
Photo Credits: abc.net.au, Haley O’Brien