Today, hyenas, like elephants and tigers, are known as long-time savannah inhabitants. However, a new discovery by paleontologists from the United States and Canada proved that about 1.4 million years ago, these predators even lived in the Arctic, along with mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. This became known thanks to a pair of fangs discovered in the 1970s, which were studied only half a century later. There are, of course, great differences between modern hyenas and their arctic ancestors, just like modern tigers and their saber-toothed brethren.
Two teeth of ancient hyenas were discovered in 1974 and 1977 in the Old Crow River Basin, by a paleontologist named Brenda Bibi. She could not pinpoint the genus of hyenas, and therefore turned to her colleague Bjorn Kurten for help, but both paleontologists died before they could publish the results of their work. Decades later, the manuscripts of scientists were discovered by one of Kurtin’s former students, Lars Verdelin, who continued the work of his teacher, along with his colleagues Jack Tsen and Grant Zazula.
Millions of years ago hyenas lived in the Arctic
To determine that the teeth found belonged to hyenas of the species Chasmaporthetes ossifragus, it took scientists only a few hours. They found out that predators lived for about 1.4 million years and were widespread – they lived in territories from Central America to the Arctic itself. Unlike modern hyenas, they were slimmer and were covered with a thicker and lighter coat of fur.
According to paleontologist Grant Zazul, they are interested in imagining hyenas that could live in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. Probably, predators hunted reindeer, and also ate carrion and meat from dead mammoths. They are the only representatives of the genus who managed to move from Eurasia to North America. Perhaps overcoming this path was accomplished by several generations of hyenas.
Why are discoveries of paleontologists so rare?
Other animals could have done the same path, but paleontologists have so far simply not found their remains, or simply have not had time to study them. Many finds of paleontologists can lie in museums for decades, and Grant Zazula explained this by saying that a team of paleontologists can detect up to 10,000 remains in one summer. It is impossible to quickly examine all these finds, therefore even the first remains of the extinct hyena Chasmaporthetes of 1901 and 1904 were identified only 20 years later.