Wednesday, June 20, 2018

SearchResearch Challenge (6/20/18): How big was the range of these animals?

Going beyond avocados and onto animals! 

As you recall, one of important ways that avocado seeds were dispersed was through the gullet of large animals (like the gomphothere).  Many of those animals are long gone--extinct.  But they left an indelible effect on our landscape, leaving a trail of guacamole behind them.    

That made me start to wonder about those beasts and what the landscape must have looked like back in the day when gomphotheres wandered around through southern Mexico and Central America.  

If I recall my Pleistocene history correctly, there were a LOT of charismatic megafauna back then--including ones that we think of as being native to some other places.  I associate sloths with South America, but there used to be really big sloths in North America as well (although there are none today).  Likewise, I think of lions in Africa and camels in the Middle East + Africa.  

But it wasn't always this way.  This leads to our fun SearchResearch Challenge for the week.  

If there were, once upon a time, lions and camels and ground sloths  (Oh my!) in North America, what was their historic region?  During the past 100,000 years, where could you find camels, lions, and ground sloths?  

Just as importantly, how do you do this search?  What queries do you need to figure this out? 

Be sure to let us know in the comments.  Share your knowledge about how to answer questions like this!  

Search on! 


  1. used [The Rancholabrean North American Land Mammal Age] – typically set from less than 240,000 years to 11,000 years BP
    also this SERP
    and these two wiki pages:
    Pleistocene megafauna
    also useful/interesting - Quaternary extinction event
    this seemed to be a pretty good cursory summary, with pictures… for multiple areas of the planet…
    Giant Ground Sloth, Megatherium americanum, Sabre tooth cat, Smilodon populator, Camel, Camelops hesternus, (a favorite:) Giant Pleistocene Beaver, Castoroides ohioensis
    the ground sloth specifically - Megatherium
    kind of an interesting way to get a possible "lay of the land" view…
    (on a side note - a fair number of comments I've submitted recently - some more than once - have failed to show up… is there a reason or just the vagaries of net communication?)
    &fwiw —
    space force
    will the 6th Branch Academy be in Mountain View - or maybe the Presidio (Star Trek-esque)?
    … Las Vegas?

  2. f there were, once upon a time, lions and camels and ground sloths (Oh my!) in North America, what was their historic region? During the past 100,000 years, where could you find camels, lions, and ground sloths?

    I started with Mexico because North America is sometimes thought as only Canada and USA and wanted to find specific about those animals Dr. Russell mentioned

    [Megafauna Mexico]

    Some articles with different megafauna like:
    Xibalbaonyx oviceps in Quintana Roo, Mamuts

    In Yucatan’s Peninsula

    “ 13 especies, siete de ellas ya extintas como el gonfoterio, tigre dientes de sable, perezoso gigante de tres tipos, oso tremarctino y un cánido parecido al lobo sudamericano,”...”A manera de resumen, Schubert señaló que el universo de megafauna en Hoyo Negro contempla hasta ahora especies como al puma (Puma concolor); oso de cara corta (Arctotherium sp); tres tipos de perezosos terrestres: Nothrotheriops shastensis, Nohochichak xibalbahkah y uno aún bajo estudio; tapir (Tapirus sp); gato montés (Lynx rufus); gonfoterio (Cuvieronius sp); pecarí (Pecari tajacu) y tigre dientes de sable (Smilodon fatalis), entre las otras ya citadas.”

    Also in Spanish: (2010) ASÍ ERA MÉXICO HACE 20,000 AÑOS In Veracruz: “gigantescos perezosos deambulaban en compañía de pequeños elefantes llamados gonfoterios.”

    Also need to read Wikipedia

    With [mapa megafauna México]

    Localidades del Pleistoceno final en Morelos (México) PDF. Abstract in English

    With [Megafauna Puebla ]

    Megafauna Puebla
    Canis dirus , Smilodon gracilis, Camelops hesternus, Mammthus Columbi and Platygonus compressus among others.

    Checked in Books and found
    The Avocado: Botany, Production and Uses Still need to read more. Mentions interesting data on avocados

    1. [camels pleistocene north america]

      The last camels of North America
      DNA extracted from bones collected in the Yukon show that North America's last camel was a close relative of Old World camels and not llamas as previously thought.

      Also Wikipedia article

      [pleistocene fauna maps north america] on images


      Same query but in ALL
      List of North American animals extinct in the Holocene

      Elephants and their relatives, giant sloths, huge armadillos, horses, and tapirs were once common throughout North America, but most of them disappeared around the time humans first arrived.

      Not the fauna we are looking for. “ Megafauna of North America”

      That is why I added [megafauna pleistocene north america maps]

      The end of the Pleistocene was marked by the extinction of almost all large land mammals worldwide except in Africa. Still need to read the whole document
      Did Megafauna die from hunting or climate change? Shows images/photos/illustrations from the megafauna and mentions among many:

      From there:

      “ “Megafauna North America”
      1. ✞ Columbian Elephant (Mammuthus columbi)
      2. ✞ Giant Ground-Sloth (Meqalonyx jeffersoni)
      3. ✞Stag-Moose (Cervalces scotti)
      4. ✞American Mastodon (Mammut americanum)
      5. ✞Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis)
      6. ✞Texas Horse (Equus scotti).
      7. ✞Sabre-tooth Tiger (Smilodon californicus) “

      Then decided to search in popular sources in Nature topics like Nat Geo, BBC:

      [BBC north america megafauna]

      The problem in trying to untangle the cause of the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction is that the evidence is scanty, so there has been a protracted debate amongst scientists about how best to interpret it.”...In fact, some studies suggest only two megafaunal species were hunted extensively in North America: mammoths and mastodons…out of 32 genera of megafaunal mammals that were present in North America during the last ice age, nine survived...”

    2. Museo Evolución Puebla (Puebla's Evolution Museum includes video in Spanish)


      [Pleistocene megafauna in Canada] interesting results

      (2015) 10 Extinct Giants That Once Roamed North America"...When President Thomas Jefferson learned about a strange claw fossil found in Ohio, he asked explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to search for giant lions during their western trek to the Pacific. The claw, however, didn't belong to a lion. It was part of Megalonyx, an extinct ground sloth, MacPhee said. [Top 10 Intrepid Explorers]..."

      Same query adding maps:

      Pleistocene Megafauna in Beringia...How Do We Know All Those Animals Lived There?

      What was the Pleistocene Range of the Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)?

      The name Pleistocene is the combination of two Greek words: pleistos (meaning “most”) and kainos (meaning “new” or “recent”). It was first used in 1839 by Sir Charles Lyell, a British geologist and lawyer.

    1) To clarify, Russell wrote "camels"; which might be presumed to include all members of the Camelus genus, or the Camelidae family. However, Russell also provided a photo with title "camel" showing the Arabian camel (Camelus dromedarius), also known as the dromedary. I took the search query to apply to that species alone.

    2) Search [historic range camel] using Google
    As an Australian based invasive species officer, majority of the results reflected my location and search history. The Arabian camel is a significant pest in central Australia.
    There are also many camel tour providers.

    There were some interesting finds: ... as usual, it did not provide a result that I might rely upon ... notes written for the popular press; hard to rely upon this.

    On the fourth search results page, I spotted the gem:
    Bernard Faye, FAO Consultant, Camel and Range Research Centre, Al-Jouf-Sakaka, Saudi Arabia
    Copied text: "The Camelidae family had probably appea-red in North America by the Oligocene period, 35 million years ago (Epstein, 1971). The first representative of this family was the Poebrotherium. The direct ancestor of today’s camel migrated to Asia through the Bering Strait 3 or 4 million years ago. It then rapidly occupied the dry zone of the Northern Hemisphere. A direct ancestor known as Camelus thomasi was present over much of Europe and Asia. Camelus dromedarius separated from the northern branch and spread across Arabia and moved into Africa. During the late Pleistocene, C. dromedarius ranged from the Atlantic to northern India, but it had become extinct in the African continent (Fig. 1.2). It was reintroduced into Africa after being domesticated.

    (PDF) Classification, history and distribution of the camel. Available from: [accessed Jun 23 2018]."

    I did not check to see if the Arabian camel has escaped and naturalised in North America.