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February 25, 2004

Pygmy mammoths!
Posted by Teresa at 12:08 PM *

Making Light only recently learned of the existence of pygmy mammoths, Mammuthus exilis, which stood about four feet tall but were in all other respects just like their larger kin. They lived on the Channel Islands, just off the California coast. At the time, the Pleistocene’s lower sea level made what are now four islands into a single larger island (dubbed Santarosae by paleontologists) only fifty miles or so from the mainland; and mammoths, like all the elephant species, were good swimmers.

Once mammoths were on the island, Foster’s Rule kicked in. This is a rule of island adaptation, first proposed by some guy named Foster in 1964, that says that on islands, large continental mammals become smaller and small continental animals become larger. True to form, Pleistocene Santarosae had gigantic deer mice and pygmy mammoths. As L. D. Agenbroad said in a paper on dwarf mammoths:

In the island survey, a ratio of approximately 1:10 large mammoth remains/small mammoth remains was encountered. All of the Columbian mammoth remains, thus far, have been located in elevated marine terrace remnants. Pygmy mammoth remains have been located in marine terraces, alluvial stream terraces, and stream channels near the island uplands. Approximately 50% of the island of Santa Rosa consists of uplands, with slopes exceeding thirty degrees. Using Columbian mammoths of Hot Springs, South Dakota as a representative continental population (Agenbroad 1994), various metric and morphological comparisons were made with the island mammoths. Calculations based on the center of gravity of large and small mammoths revealed that the pygmy mammoths were able to negotiate slopes that were as much as 10 degrees steeper than Columbian mammoths could travel. This suggests one of the reasons that the diminutive forms became the dominant island mammoth population. It should be noted that pygmy mammoths have not been discovered on the continental coast.

In 1977, Paul Sondaar, studying stegodons in Indonesia, concluded there was a shortening of lower limb bones, to allow “low gear locomotion” (akin to 4 wheel drive in modern vehicles) needed in ascending and descending steep slopes. This gave smaller animals access to upland pasturage which may have been crucial to survival in periods of climatic or dietary stress. Bone metric analyses confirm Sondaar’s conclusions for M. exilis, the island adapted mammoth. Analyses of the femora, humerii and dentition reveal additional characteristics. … The humerus takes on the added use, as a braking mechanism for a quadruped descending steep slopes.

Pygmy mammoths: ATVs of the Channel Islands.

They survived there far longer than mammoth mammoths did on the mainland, lasting into the Holocene, when the islands were colonized by the Chumash tribes.

It doesn’t end there. Apparently this business of island-dwelling pygmy mammoth populations surviving long after the disappearance of the continental mammoths is something that happened in several places around the world. For instance, Wrangel Island, in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Siberia, had a population of pygmy mammoths as late as 2000 BCE. These were woollier and a bit bigger than Mammuthus exilis. The question of whether they were fluorescent has not yet been addressed.

Then there’s the matter of a certain wall painting in Thebes, in the 18th Dynasty tomb of Rekh-mi-Re, advisor to Thutmosis III. It shows a procession of Syrian tributaries bringing gifts to the pharaoh. One of them looks like a very small mammoth. Whatever its species, it can’t be a juvenile specimen, because it has long tusks. This is discussed here, in a paper that’s unfortunately available only as a PDF file, if you want to be able to see the illustrations.

This disputed Syrian proboscid is part of the larger phenomenon known as The endemic dwarf elephants of the ancient Mediterranean. They were, too. Here’s a nifty little skeleton from Sicily.

Miniature elephants of the ancient Mediterranean! I don’t know about you , but they certainly change my imagination of the ancient world. They make it funnier. One cannot but regret their disappearance.

             ______
----/ \----
\ | | /
\ \ o o / /
\/|\ /|\/
| \ / |
| \ \_|
| |\_/|
oooooooo
Comments on Pygmy mammoths!:
#1 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:21 PM:

Wow! I feel as though we're only one step away from Mimmoths (from the Foglios' Girl Genius universe; teeny mammoths about the size of mice)!

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:33 PM:

Pygmy Mammoths can join Jumbo Shrimp in the oxymoronically-named phylum.

As for the Egyptian ones, maybe Heru Ptah can write a book!

#3 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:36 PM:

On an earlier thread to either this or Patrick's blog, when oxymorons came up, I mentioned Dwarf Mammoths.

I think it was in the context of Giant Shrimp from Mars.

Now you get my point:) Badly timed punchline, I suppose.

I've taught "Undersea Living" in Ventura, to a class who also visited the Channel Islands with a biologist. So I've thought about those hairy critters ever since...

My garden would still be too small for one to graze happily. But how well would it fight against a pack of coyotes? Or ermines in the walls?

#4 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:37 PM:

Or perhaps House Hippos.

See House Hippos here


PS. Lis, I'm a Lis too, or more technically an Elizabeth. Strangely, this is now the only place where I've run into TWO other people called Lis.

#5 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:41 PM:

ASCII art-- awesome.

Puts me in mind (the article does) of Terry Pratchett's hermit elephants. From the Discworld Companion:

"These poor creatures lack the thick skins of normal Elephants, and use abandoned mud huts to provide camoflage and protection instead. They have not problem obtaining abandoned mud huts since the previous occupants move out very rapidly when a hermit Elephant moves in."

#6 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:42 PM:

ASCII art-- awesome.

Puts me in mind (the article does) of Terry Pratchett's hermit elephants. From the Discworld Companion:

"These poor creatures lack the thick skins of normal Elephants, and use abandoned mud huts to provide camoflage and protection instead. They have no problem obtaining abandoned mud huts since the previous occupants move out very rapidly when a hermit Elephant moves in."

#7 ::: Adam L. ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:42 PM:

Bugger, it posted twice. Sorry 'bout that.

#8 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:46 PM:

You Know You Have Been Watching Too Much Buffy When:

You see the word Chumash in this article and your mind sings, "Their trunks have got diseases from the Chumash tribe".

#9 ::: wychwood ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:47 PM:

I've been reading here for a while, but was *forced* to comment by the wonderful use of title tags in your post... I was rendered almost unable to read the actual post :)

Not that the actual post wasn't interesting in its own right, you understand.

#10 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:49 PM:

Tina: And skeezy cheeses.

#11 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:50 PM:

I thought I posted a comment saying that this was the first time that titles of URLs had me rolling on the floor, but apparently I was actually dreaming of mammoths in my office, because it's not here. Oh well.

#12 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Oh. Dear. I hadn't noticed that, because I hadn't actually followed the links yet.

Teresa, slipping comedy routines into title attribute is just WRONG.

In, you know. A good way.

#13 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:19 PM:

If I give you our stuffed mammoth with wings (from The Way Things Work store) will you pretty please make me laugh some more? At least once the bronchitis is gone -- laughing just means coughing then. As you know Bob.

And for god's sake, is there no one out there with a spare Van de Graaf generator to give this woman?

MKK

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:30 PM:

Tina: I also went right into Once More With Feeling when the Chumash came up.

Cackling uncontrollably; my coworkers think I'm a lunatic. But ma nishtana ha yom haze...

Teresa, I think it's "To Anacreon in Heaven," which doesn't scan as well until you realize that 'heaven' is pronounced as one syllable in that dialect/period.

#15 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:40 PM:

I don't have a spare Van de Graaff generator, but another thing for everyone to see when they're in Boston for Noreascon (or any other event/con, or just to visit) is the Museum of Science. Much as I love other science museums, including my first favorite Seattle's Pacific Science Center, the others don't have a freakin' huge Van de Graaff generator, built by Robert Van de Graaff himself, with which to do indoor lightning shows.

The MoS Theater of Electricity also has Tesla coils. No pygmy mammoths that I've seen lately though.

#16 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:10 PM:

Pygmy Mammoths can join Jumbo Shrimp in the oxymoronically-named phylum.

Well, not really. They aren't called "mammoths" because they're extremely big; extremely big things are described as "mammoth" because they are of outsized dimensions, like the original mammoths. The word comes from mamut or mamot, which is a Russian or Siberian word meaning something on the order of "earth creature" or maybe "earth digger", because the locals where the first ones were dug up believed that they dug through the ground like moles. The bigness was incidental.

#17 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:27 PM:

Debra -- yes, but "shrimp" works the same way, no?

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:28 PM:

"One cannot but regret their disappearance."

Imagine if they could have been domesticated.

The Conquistadors might have found an Aztec empire that paid tribute to the mighty Mammoth-Lords of Chumash.

"We want a Van de Graaff generator."

There are fewer satisfying ways of disposing of rejected ms unaccompanied by SASEs than having your loyal P-M drop them into a streamer of captive lightning and watching them turn into purple smoke.

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:46 PM:

Debra, you're confusing etymology with meaning. I'm pretty convinced that 'pygmy' comes from the name of a people, too (I'll look it up when I get home). But that's irrelevant.

Today, the word 'mammoth' as an adjective means 'huge', even 'monstrously oversized'. The word 'pygmy' as an adjective means 'abnormally small' or 'undersized'. That means that the phrase is synchronically oxymoronic, even if it's diachronically innocuous.

Also, please note the distinction between 'oxymoronic' and 'contradictory'; an oxymoron need only appear to contradict itself, and then only at first glance. For example, the phrase 'pretty ugly' is an oxymoron but not a contradiction, because the word 'pretty' has two meanings, and one of them is 'moderately' or 'extremely'. So too with 'pygmy mammoth', because while the word 'pygmy' is being used in its usual sense of 'unusually or abnormally small', the word 'mammoth' is being used in its original, but no longer primary, sense of 'prehistoric elephantlike creature with long shaggy fur'. Contradictory? No. Oxymoronic? Yes.

/pedantry. I'll be all right in just a minute, as soon as I get out of the sun.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:48 PM:

(unfolding chaise lounge, sitting back to watch)

#21 ::: Grant Dunham ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:48 PM:

I don't understand why mammoths would be compelled to go swimming miles into the ocean. Did they wade out too far and get caught in a current or something?

#22 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:59 PM:

"Oh hey — there's an island over there. I wonder if there's more food on it?"

#23 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Grant --

Elephants are secondarily terrestrial aquatic mammals; their closest living relatives are sea cows and dugongs. They're good and enthusiastic swimmers.

Since we don't have coastal populations of elephants to look at modernly, we can't say much about possible feeding or predator avoiding behaviours, such as standing on shoals and eating seaweed or wading way out when there were Smilodon around.

But both sorts of things are entirely possible, and since the separation distance from the mainland was much less -- full size mammoth remains are found in a 1:10 ratio, indicating regular immigration -- than modernly, we can safely conclude that not only was getting to the island not that hard, there were probably sounds and smells of happy mammoths coming from it.

#24 ::: Grant Dunham ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Yeah, but could they see the island? According to the article, it was five miles off the coast at that time. I guess it's possible, given that one can see the cliffs of Dover from the French coast on a clear day. But elephants have poor eyesight.

I don't doubt elephants like the water. I just didn't know they were given to Chris Columbus-type exploration of the sea.

#25 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:51 PM:

"Well, like, we were all on the beach? And Desmond saw this rodent thingy? You know, like with the teeth and the eek eek noises? And Desmond is, like, this total freak about those things, and he was like, 'Oh my god, swim for your lives,' and by the time we could catch up with him? To, like, ask him why? We were... um... here.

"Gosh, you're tall."

#26 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:03 PM:

Given the dearth of large, domesticable beasts of burden in the New World, pygmy mammoths might indeed have made a good deal of difference. That is, if they shared domesticability in common with the Indian elephant and the extinct Atlas elephant (the Moroccan-originated ones that Hannibal took over the Alps).

#27 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Alas for Tor's chances of getting one, there's only one surviving pygmy mammoth: Eugen, the small wooly mammoth in Norb, the short-lived comic strip by Daniel Pinkwater and Tony Auth. Eugen is a very sweet mammoth, despite having once been abducted by agents of pop-star James Sweetie-Pie for his private zoo. He's fond of pizza, and once saved the Earth from alien invasion with his self-defense whistle (B-flat). The tales of Eugen, Norb, and their friends were collected in a volume published by MU Press (with an introduction by one Vonda McIntyre) which I recommend to one and all.

#28 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:23 PM:

Synchronicity:

I sent Pinkwater a bunch of stuff to autograph last week. There wasn't enough room in the envelope for my battered copy of Norb, so it has been sitting in my home office for the last week. A very funny and odd comick.

DP is way pissed at Mu press. If anyone out there knows an alternative publisher . . .

#29 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:31 PM:

And only distantly apropos of mammoths, CNN is reporting that the polar bears at the Singapore zoo have turned green.

#30 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:33 PM:

The thing that impressed me when I first learned about dwarf mammoths a few years ago was finding out the last ones died something like only 4000 years ago. That's within the reach of written language.

#31 ::: gthistle ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:34 PM:

Tangentially, the 2002 computer adventure game Syberia requires its protagonist, Kate Walker, to follow an eccentric Ruritanian toymaker on his quest for surviving mammoths. I no longer recall whether the game specifies their size, but the quest does head northeast into a USSR-analogue, loosely Siberiawards.

#32 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:07 PM:

Jordin --

Green polar bears happen in the wild; it's rare for the wildlife photographers to take pictures of those bears, but it is known to happen.

#33 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:18 PM:

I first discovered the existence of bonsai mammoths in Michael Scott Rohan's _The Hammer of the Sun_, the third in his trilogy _The Winter of the World_. These books also contain neanderthal dwarves and a terrific forest. Naturally, I thought Rohan had invented them but was swiftly disabused of this notion.

I call them bonsai mammoths to avoid the "jumbo shrimp" problem.

And I *want* one. I'll look after it and take it for walks and house train it and comb it and everything.

Genetic engineers, get working, there's a definite demand.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:27 PM:

Yes. Exactly. Want pygmy mammoth.

Did you notice that the one that left the really good set of remains at Santarosae was fifty years old when it died?

#35 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Yes, indeed, 50 years is reasonable for an island population with no or few predators. It's not unheard of for elephants in healthy captivity to live into their 60s and 70s.

#36 ::: JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:37 PM:

"Since we don't have coastal populations of elephants to look at modernly..."

Actually, when I was puttering around on the coast of Kenya, the locals of Lamu Island told me that elephants swim out to the neighboring islands and that you can hear them trashing about in the mangrove swamps at night. Why they do remains a mystery to me.

I'm with Jo. The team of geneticists currently involved in attempting to engineer a living wooly mammoth (fertilizing elephant eggs, I think) is based in Japan. Perhaps they can be convinced to miniaturize them as well? It's a small step from square melons to pygmy shaggy elephants, right?

#37 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:44 PM:

It seems to me that we can use Foster's Rule to do this without any mucking about with genes. Obviously, the smaller and steeper the island, the faster the animals will adapt, so we simply need to find something very small and steep, say an abandoned offshore oil rig, and drop some elephants on it. Go away and hunt for Tesla coils for a while, come back and hey presto. (Getting the elephants to grow longer, mammoth-like coats is left as an exercise for the student.)

#38 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:48 PM:

Jo wrote:

And I *want* one. I'll look after it and take it for walks and house train it and comb it and everything.

Don't forget to collect the under-fur you comb out for weaving! I bet it'd make awesome yarn, like qiviut!

I want one too. I even live in Alaska. It's the right climate and everything! I might need a bigger back yard...

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:49 PM:

"Perhaps they can be convinced . . ."

. . . to graft in some parrot speech genes while they're at it, too. Because if your pygmy mammoth can talk, he can let you know when he has to go outside, or alert you if the Tesla coil set the curtains on fire.

Sorry, I'm not being sirius.

#40 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:58 PM:

Jo,
The trouble with calling them bonsai mammoths is that it makes me think of a mammoth growing up inside a plexiglas box, so that it ends up nicely square or triangular or whatever, and with its tusks bound to make them grow corkscrew-shaped....

Graydon,
So are the wild green polar bears (who no doubt sleep furiously) also afflicted with algae, or is the cause different? (ObTechieJoke: since they're polar bears, perhaps the green is anodic corrosion?)

#41 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:40 PM:

Mammoths flourished (floreat?) in times when the ocean level was lower. It's possible the islands & the shore reached out closer to one another at the time when the mammoths reached them & they waded (wode?).
Tasmanian aborigines are thought to have walked there from the mainland similarly. No Lemuria was, strictly, involved. Modern elephants are good swimmers (getting the weight off their feet must be nice), but most mammoths were hairy, so might not do so well getting wet through.

Teresa: A folding chaise longue/lounge? I've never seen nor heard of that. For my type, see:
www.tribuneindia.com/1998/98oct31/saturday/head2.htm(Front view)
www.uoregon.edu/~jnicols/projects/idea-images/david_recamier.jpg (Side view)

I think this may be another one of those torch/flashlight things. When my partner offered to come over with his torch to help a fellow tourist search for a lost earring, it took a heartbeat or two for me to translate her alarmed & puzzled silent look into: "oops 'common language' malfunction".
The weather being as it is there, this would be an indoor lounge ... I suppose this is like the NH Salon, not totally unrelated (pace Orwell's Rules on another thread) to M Recamier's.

#42 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Jordin -

the wild green polar bears are indeed afflicted with algae. (I understand that the algae die every winter, quite reliably.)

#43 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:45 PM:

Wasn't there the small carnivorous mammoth in Sluggy Freelance somewhere? Worship the comic...

#44 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Following up to Dan Blum's idea -- the other half of Foster's Rule is that small animals get big.

Which means that we can, at the very same time that we are making pigmy mammoths, also make giant badgers!

#45 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:17 PM:

So, you all know what komodo dragons used to eat, right? Like, before there were people and goats and chickens? Because they didn't just grow big on spinach...

#46 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:18 PM:

Jordin Kare writes:
And only distantly apropos of mammoths, CNN is reporting that the polar bears at the Singapore zoo have turned green.

Quick, someone fly to Singapore with one of those ultraviolet LED flashlights, and see if they fluoresce.

(Do we already know someone in Singapore with a UV flashlight?)

#47 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:36 PM:

Has anybody else read L'engle's _Many Waters_? I thought she was making them up...

#48 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:42 PM:

Jordin writes:
Alas for Tor's chances of getting one, there's only one surviving pygmy mammoth: Eugen, the small wooly mammoth in Norb, the short-lived comic strip by Daniel Pinkwater and Tony Auth. Eugen is a very sweet mammoth, despite having once been abducted by agents of pop-star James Sweetie-Pie for his private zoo. He's fond of pizza, and once saved the Earth from alien invasion with his self-defense whistle (B-flat). The tales of Eugen, Norb, and their friends were collected in a volume published by MU Press (with an introduction by one Vonda McIntyre) which I recommend to one and all.

If the comic strip has been defunct for many a year, wouldn't Eugen be extinct, too? Or are the characters simply getting on with their lives, unchronicled?

Walt Kelly wrote of all the bugs, frogs, et al who occasionally appeared as supporting characters in Pogo, _"I presume they had jobs in other comic strips on the other days of the week."_

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:46 PM:

Wasn't there a purple polar bear at the Bronx Zoo for a while? It was from medication IIRC...when they finished the med, the bear reverted to its natural yellowish white. Anybody else remember that?

#50 ::: Hil ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:47 PM:

Oh Anacreon on high! by day and by night.

#51 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:54 PM:

"Or are the characters simply getting on with their lives, unchronicled?"

Eugen got a job as a Figment, and has lately been bothering our host.

Of course, you could ask Daniel Pinkwater:

http://www.pinkwater.com/pzone/forum/forum.html

#52 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 08:34 PM:

Shetland elephants!

They would make the perfect birthday gift for my father, who loves all things elephant. (Since I was quite small, I have received gifts from the Birthday Elephant and the Christmas Elephant and the Easter Elephant...)

#53 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 08:57 PM:

Jordin wrote:

The trouble with calling them bonsai mammoths is that it makes me think of a mammoth growing up inside a plexiglas box, so that it ends up nicely square or triangular or whatever, and with its tusks bound to make them grow corkscrew-shaped....

Sort of like this?

#54 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:17 PM:

Eulogy for Anacreon

Anacreon, departed friend,
I struggle still to comprehend
genetic spells unwinding death
that granted you contemp'ry breath.
I watched you grow from calf to bull,
from wrinkled kid to tusks and wool.
We swam; we romped; we drank the sun
from dawn's first ray 'til day was done.

I loved your voice, your clarion trunk,
your shrill fanfares when we'd both drunk
our fill of wine, virtue and verse,
no more time's dirges to rehearse.
Contented in the zeppelin's shade
we set a blanket down, arrayed
with wine, fresh fruit and cheeses for
our picnic feast atop the tor.

Yet mystic forces rule unseen--
cruel irony in life's machine.
Had I known of your namesake's fate
those grapes would ne'er have graced your plate.

#55 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:50 PM:
. . . to graft in some parrot speech genes while they're at it, too. Because if your pygmy mammoth can talk, he can let you know when he has to go outside, or alert you if the Tesla coil set the curtains on fire.

I'm sure it would be easier to teach him to write - he can hold the pen in his trunk like Napoleon in "Jerry Was a Man."

And bravo, Virge.

#56 ::: Bernadette Bosky ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:55 PM:

My favorite image is of when the cuddly, wooly pigmy mammoth gets close enough to the Van de Graaft generator that all its fur stands out straight.

#57 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:19 PM:

I am wondering if any of them were pink...

#58 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:22 PM:

Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius has mimmoths — mammoths the size of rats. (Whups, this came up in the “Free giant shrimp” thread.)

Is Foster’s Rule the explanation for the massive cans of Foster’s Lager you find on the island continent of Australia?

And could the rule be used to find the true medium size of animals by looking for critters that don’t change after they move to in island?

#59 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:44 PM:

If you get a pygmy mammoth for the Tor office, I volunteer to spin its fur into yarn for you!

#60 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:49 PM:

I would like a miniature Scottish cow, you know, the furry ones that look like teddy bears? (They are called somthing else but I am blanking on it just now.) I can't really think of any small things I would like bigger, chinchillas maybe, but not too big or they would eat houses and light poles and generally chew the world up.

#61 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:51 PM:

Bah, I do know how to spell something. Not everything mind you...

#62 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 11:03 PM:

Epacris: I belive this http://www.onlinesports.com/images/is-lc105.jpg
would be the sort of thing Teresa means. They're sold here as lawn or deck furniture.

MKK

#63 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:07 AM:

Get yer cannibalistic pygmy mammoths here!

#64 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:58 AM:

epacris: thank you for the pictures. (Although I'd argue the 2nd one \is/ a divan, rather than a chaise longue; despite the author's association of chaises longues with debauchery, I've never seen anyone make the chair with two backs....) I don't think I'd ever seen a \non/-folding chaise longue before; cheap plastic-and-aluminum models (much crappier than the example MKK provides), slatted-wood "deck chairs", and the canvas-and-sticks contraption that Branagh loses a battle with in his version of Much Ado About Nothing -- but never something that elegant.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 08:31 AM:

We need something like a rasff award here.

#66 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 09:59 AM:

Joke doing the rounds here at work (read: I've been inflicting on coworkers):

Q: What's big and white and depressed?

A: A bi-polar bear.

Thank you, you've been a great audience — I'll be here all week.

---L.

#67 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 10:21 AM:

The Tick animated series included a throwaway gag:

"This sounds like a job for Bipolar Bear! But I just can't seem to get out of bed this month."
(wav)

#68 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 10:33 AM:

I remember that episode. It's the source of my observation, originally made about a co-worker who was at loggerheads with the organization we worked for, that when someone puts on the Captain Lemming costume and head for the roof, there's not a lot you can do for them.

#69 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 11:07 AM:

"if they shared domesticability in common with the Indian elephant and the extinct Atlas elephant"

I don't know about the Atlas elephant, but the Indian elephant is not domesticated. Individual Indian elephants are caught and tamed, but they won't breed in captivity, so they aren't a domesticated animal.

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:02 PM:

"Is Foster’s Rule the explanation for the massive cans of Foster’s Lager you find on the island continent of Australia?"

No, that's the result of selective brewing.

#71 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:02 PM:

CHip: It was, believe it or not, the first one I could find that was all chrome and leather and *way* elegant. I was lazy and in a hurry.

Here's the plastic kind
http://www.beary.us/photogallery/panama_city_17_aug/Panama%20City%20Trip%20035.jpg

Here's one version of the metal and plastic webbing sort
http://alumatech1.com/

MKK

#72 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:16 PM:

Speaking of teaching elephants to write, are you guys familiar with the work of Alex Melamid and Vitaly Komar?

#73 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:26 PM:

Am I alone in wanting to hear more about the gigantic deer mice?

#74 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:55 PM:

Am I alone in wanting to hear more about the gigantic deer mice?

Definitely not. The kid and I searched google for them this morning, but no pictures.

#75 ::: Julie M ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 02:30 PM:

Yeah, I knew I was in trouble on that search when Pink and the Brain Lab results was the lead off link.

#76 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 03:04 PM:

From Niall:
but the Indian elephant is not domesticated. Individual Indian elephants are caught and tamed, but they won't breed in captivity, so they aren't a domesticated animal.

I'd call them 'domesticated' in most non-scientific terminology -- since generations of =female= Indian elephants have been bred successfully, despite the difficulty of managing male Indian elephants. (The mahouts merely shoo the female in heat into the jungle to find a paramour. Note that in most cases =she comes back= when her romantic interlude is over.) It would be similar to saying that domestic cats aren't domesticated because some owners let their queens out to seek the tom of their choice when in heat.

Note also that modern zoos and circuses do breed in captivity, and modern zoos are successfully breeding African elephants.

If we're going to genetically engineer bonsai mammoths, we may as well modify musth, or else there is going to be havoc in the neighborhoods as miniature bulls knock over picket fences and trample ornamental shrubs....

#77 ::: Edward Liu ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Howdy,

Julie M writes, "Yeah, I knew I was in trouble on that search (for gigantic deer mice) when Pinky and the Brain Lab results was the lead off link"

Actually, right this very second, Google's top search result for "gigantic deer mice" (minus quotes) is this page. Followed immediately by the Pinky and the Brain website, which unfortunately does not include a plan to take over the world using gigantic deer mice. Or pygmy mammoths, for that matter.

In Jared Diamond's _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ book, he talks about gigantic kangaroos and other marsupials in Australia, I think. Diamond does not find it coincidental that these and other gigantic animals died out almost immediately (geographically speaking) when people started showing up in sizeable numbers.

(Off-topic aside: oddly enough, the Google Ad I'm getting when I search for "gigantic deer mice" is for John Deere's web site, obviously because tractor lawn mowers are known for being effective defense mechanisms against incursions of gigantic deer mice. After seeing a number of amusing results from Google Ads, I'm beginning to wonder if they code them specifically so people will start looking at the ads for entertainment value.)

-- Ed

#78 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 05:18 PM:

Most paelontologists do not find it coincidental that most North American megafauna died out almost immediately when Clovis points started showing up in sizeable numbers, either.

Short shameful confession: As neat at the idea of pigmy mammoths is, my favorite dead pleistocene beastie is the giant beaver.

I'll go away now.

---L.

#79 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 05:54 PM:

My favorites are the Cave Sloth (which despite the claws was an herbivore until we ate them all, according to the Museum of Natural History) and glyptodon, which was related to the armadillo and looked like a small lumpy volkswagon bug.

#80 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 06:46 PM:

Julia -

Many glyptodont species had spiked tail clubs; I don't know if the 'thagomizer' informal terminology used for stegosaurs has been adopted or not.

#81 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 08:41 PM:

I've seen a giant beaver skeleton on display and for some reason found it one of the most frightening, disturbing things ever. Shiver.

#82 ::: eleanor rowe ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 05:00 AM:

I want a pygmy mammoth! The cats could ride on it.

Subthread, if US chaise lounge = UK sun-lounger, does UK chaise-longe = US day bed? and if not, what's a day bed?

Thanks to MKK & epacris for the pictures.

#84 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 10:06 AM:

Some Australian megafauna are man-made. See this site: http://www.bigthings.com.au/ (Thanks to Jonathan Strahan for the link!)

#85 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 10:45 AM:

Today's weird creatures are brought to you from the bottom of the globe:

Evidence Of A "Lost World": Antarctica Yields Two Unknown Dinosaur Species

#86 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 10:50 AM:

Much as I like pygmy mammoths, I think I'd trade them for full-sized burrowing mammoths.

#87 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 11:21 AM:

Eleanor:

Here's a whole page full of daybeds
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=www.wicker.com/daybed/logo-images/trellis-day-bed.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.wicker.com/daybed/home.html&h=180&w=250&sz=10&tbnid=SZegRqpSHKsJ:&tbnh=76&tbnw=105&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dday%2Bbed%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3DUTF-8%26c2coff%3D1%26sa%3DG

We also have chaise loungues indoors. In fact, I have both a daybed and a chaise in the sunroom. The chaise is upholstered in purple of course. You can see part of it here
http://marykay.typepad.com/gallimaufry/2004/02/friday_cat_blog_1.html

MKK

#88 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 03:44 PM:

I was just reading an old Smithsonian article on aging, and one of the things the researcher had found (and theorised) was that Island versions of prey animals would have longer life spans.

Oddly enough (in light of this conversation) the mice which had that trait were smaller than their fellows.

What I found most interesting was that happened that way on two separate occaisions, though the mice were related, so it may have been a local bias.

On the other hand, the same was true of a set of isolated 'possums.

Terry K

#89 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 12:16 AM:

I'm not sure I want a pygmy mammoth (Around cats???), but even if I did, I couldn't have one.

When we moved into our current apartment, we asked the Caretaker what their policy on pets was. His reply:

"No horses or elephants."

#90 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 10:53 PM:

Well, there is the possiblity of obtaining a miniature donkey, while you wait for the geneticists to create a pygmy mammoth.... My wife says she knew someone who had them as housepets.

#91 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 11:33 PM:

Smoking gun marsupials? I don't think marsupials should be allowed to have guns.

She hopped away from the crime scene, her derringer concealed in her pouch.

(I do, however, support the right to arm bears.)

#92 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 11:56 AM:

I'm envisioning the pygmy mammoth walking happily to the bus stop in a Montreal winter, clearing a path for the rest of us. Tor may want a pygmy mammoth, but Jo needs one.

#93 ::: Fred Boness ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:47 AM:

I'm envisioning those island mammoths hunted to extinction by indians. Not very smart of them was it?

#94 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:41 PM:

I'm kind of assuming that their grasp on hunger was more comprehensive than their grasp on mammoth population density.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:56 PM:

It was kind of a boil-the-seed-corn thing...except that you can't always tell when an animal population is at the seed-corn level.

#96 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Smoking gun marsupials? I don't think marsupials should be allowed to have guns.

You all know the joke about the koala that walks into a bar, orders a plate of eucalyptus, shoots the piano player, and walks out, don't you?

#97 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 03:43 PM:

Jim --

Isn't there something about a wombat and carrots in a very similar situation?

#98 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 04:37 PM:

I was just doing some reading (tail end of a book, which being out of hand, has a title out of mind) which has a section on the pygmy mammoths of Santa Rosa Island.

It seems that the overlap, if any, was at the tail end of the mammoths run, and as a food resource it probably wasn't all that great (as in large) the island was small and the numbers of mammoths would have never been very large.

More to the point (this argument goes) the people who found them would not have been Clovis Man, but rather seagoers, and probably not all that interested in hunting them.

After all, fish, shellfish, seals, etc. were prevalent, and they'd need a new tool set to hunt mammoth.

Terry K

#99 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 05:46 PM:

Random interjection: I'm really tired, having gotten NO sleep the night before because two or three people on this forum mentioned Georgette Heyer in another thread, so I went and got a book of hers, and stayed up all night to finish it, and the upshot is that my very tired tired eyeballs keeping seeing "Polygamy Mammoths" in the side bar.

#100 ::: sundre ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 11:29 PM:

*offers teresa an umbrella for over the folding chaise, as well as frozen blender beverage of choice*

yeah, i know. anticipating seasonal change ahead of schedule.

ooh. warm happy thought. knitted mammoth mittens?

#101 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 08:36 AM:

Erik: Though Australia -- except for the Australian Capital Territory (=DC ish), just this week -- doesn't have a Bill of Rights, we still generally have a right to bare arms. There are a lot about. Usually, however, it's "young adults" who do this; those more mature cover up (ozone layer y'know -- nowt to do with wobbly bits).

I wonder if the legendary "dropbears" a type of armed bear? Luckily, despite having many venomous or poisonous reptiles, insects, arachnids, molluscs, fish, coelenterates, some plants & a monotreme, most marsupials are pretty 'armless <duck[bills]s quickly>

#102 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 05:15 PM:

James: I usually hear that one told about a panda, but yes, I do know the joke.

The koala variant I heard was a little different and plays on the Australian meaning of "root". Ahem.

#103 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 11:56 AM:

Today Edwin Rivera, Tor's longtime receptionist and dogsbody, flatly asserted that there could never have been pygmy mammoths. I directed him to this post.

Just in case he ever gets around to looking at the comments at the bottom: Hiya, Edwin! I should have offered to bet you on this one.

#104 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2004, 06:13 AM:

This may throw a new light on mammoth biology &/or mythology (from Neil Gaiman's online journal):
www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2004_03_21_archive.asp#108018110573207492

... arrived in UK, met Steve Jones and signed lots of bookplates for him for his Dark Delicacies signing of the new edition of the Mammoth Book of Vampires (or possibly the Vampire Book of Mammoths)

Perhaps that mammoth pen near the zeppelin mast (both well away from the van der Graaf -- remember the Hindenberg) needs more thought ...

#105 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2004, 11:15 PM:

Companions for the pygmy mammoths?
Prehistoric dwarf human remains found on Pacific island [Flores, a part of Indonesia known for strangenesses.]
The ... hominins [hominids?], shared their home with the gigantic komodo dragon and the pygmy elephant Stegodon. [This may mean a pygmy version of the ancient Stegodon, which was usually quite large. Hmm: reptiles large, mammals small; interesting.]

When Hobbits hunted pygmy elephants -- the discovery of a new member of the human family

Online report in Nature - Little lady of Flores forces rethink of human evolution -- the most extreme example ever found of human adaptation.

#106 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2004, 11:44 PM:

In the Bedrock version, they'll be called "steak-o-dons."

The Floresians are also being discussed on Open Thread 30.

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