Newly discovered giant rhino species was among largest mammals ever to walk Earth

Ecological reconstruction of the new giant rhino Paraceratherium linxiaense in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau during the late Oligocene. (Photo: Tao Deng)

A group of researchers found a new giant rhinoceros species from fossils dating back to 26.5 million years in the Gansu Province of northwestern China.

According to findings published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Communications Biology, Tao Deng, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and his team have recovered the skeletal remains of a giant rhino dubbed Paraceratherium linxiaense.

The researchers said the giant rhino is considered to be one of the largest land mammals that ever lived. The skulls and legs of a giant rhino are longer than all reported land mammals. Deng says that this species is one-fifth larger than the P. bugtiense species, but similar in size to the P. lepidum species.

Researchers uncovered a completely preserved skull of the new species, which is said to have a deeper nasal cavity than other giant rhinoceros species. It also has a slender skull, short nose trunk and long neck.

“What’s extraordinary about this particular thing is that it’s a wonderfully preserved fossil so it tells us a lot about the anatomy of the individual group,” Lawrence Flynn, a co-author of the study, said.

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The Paraceratherium linxiaense had a body weight of 24 tons, similar to the total weight of four large African elephants or eight white rhinos, according to Deng. It had a shoulder height of around 16 feet, and a body length of about 26 feet.

Its head could reach a height of about 23 feet to browse leaves of tree tops.

Researchers have discovered a new species of giant rhino fossils dating back to 26.5 million years ago. (Photo: Tao Deng)

The giant rhino populated Asia in areas including Pakistan, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and the genus Paraceratherium was the most widely distributed form of the giant rhino, according to researchers.

Flynn says that the most surprising part of the fossil discovery was that it revealed that vegetation productivity was very high in China, Pakistan and other areas in Asia where these rhinos and other mammalian creatures populated in the past.

“To support an animal that size, there must have been a lot of vegetation,” Flynn said. “What we see in terms of vegetation globally today is not an accurate picture of what was in the past because there was higher vegetation productivity in the past.”

What it says about extinction, Flynn says, is that there was a whole diversification of rhinos and other mammal groups millions of years ago, but since then, the Earth’s climate has changed and a lot of these groups have disappeared.

“There used to be a diverse and rich and interesting community which is gone, so it is m much more important that we preserve what we have,” Flynn said.

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