Dwarf Hippos

National Geographic has an interesting story up about dwarf hippo fossils found on the island of Cyprus. There are a couple of interesting aspects to the find.


First, the hippos are somewhat different, morphologically, from their African cousins in that they show adaptations for a more terrestrial lifestyle:

The dwarf hippopotamuses were herbivores, like their modern cousins, but were only about two and a half feet (75 centimeters) tall and four feet (120 centimeters) long.
Unlike modern hippos, whose upturned nostrils seem designed for swimming, Cypriot hippos had low-slung nostrils better suited to foraging on land.
Panayides said the fossils show the Cypriot hippos’ legs and feet were also adapted to land, enabling them to stand on their hind legs to reach tree branches.

Second, and this will make some of my readers happy, the find has implications for the overkill hypothesis:

Evidence of human activity at Ayia Napa means the island may have been settled by humans as much as 3,500 years earlier.
A human footprint at the Ayia Napa site could bolster the theory that the island’s earliest inhabitants could have driven the dwarf hippos to extinction through hunting, said Panayides.

Here is a picture of some of the fossils, in case you have ever wondered what fossilized hippos look like.
071206-AP-cyprus-dwarf_big.jpg

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9 Responses

  1. Thanks Afarensis. I’m actually prepared to bet a small sum of money that when we know the timing of animal extinctions through the Mediterranean islands we will know exactly the sequence and timing of human occupation of those islands. Are you aware of any work done on Mediterranean extinctions?

  2. Thanks Afarensis. I’m actually prepared to bet a small sum of money that when we know the timing of animal extinctions through the Mediterranean islands we will know exactly the sequence and timing of human occupation of those islands. Are you aware of any work done on Mediterranean extinctions?

  3. It’s the old story — Let’s move to that island where there is always plenty of game, and then we find out ‘always’ doesn’t last long.

  4. Those ain’t strictly speaking fossils, they’re only 12,000 years old. It’s simply a Mesolithic butchering site.

  5. If the extinct (circa 1,000 years ago) Madagascar primates are referred to as “subfossil primates” then surely 12,000 year old hippo bones deserve to be called fossils.

  6. A couple of weeks ago I was looking at Science Daily. There was report of a study which found that the folk wisdom of small large mammals, large small mammals, birds and reptiles on islands was not correct. Also there were two reports that the island principles worked very well in the marine world. What’s a boy to believe?

  7. Jim. I read that too but it doesn’t really fit what seems to be the case. Most species that are large on the mainland ARE smaller on islands. On the other hand small species tend to be larger on islands so it probably cancels out. On the other hand plants on offshore islands round NZ consistenlty have larger leaves than their mainland relatives. Complicated.

  8. Jim. I read that too but it doesn’t really fit what seems to be the case. Most species that are large on the mainland ARE smaller on islands. On the other hand small species tend to be larger on islands so it probably cancels out. On the other hand plants on offshore islands round NZ consistenlty have larger leaves than their mainland relatives. Complicated.

  9. Jim – I vaguely remember that, I may even have the paper (I’ll have to check). I was somewhat skeptical of the claims but will have to research it. I tend to think the island rule is generally valid (bearing in mind that there are exceptions to every rule).

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