Commonly known as woolly rhino, woolly rhinoceros was a rhinoceros species that has since gone extinct. While scientists are convinced that the woolly rhinoceros lived around 350,000 years ago and existed through the last glacial period, recent radiocarbon dating implies that the species might have survived as recently as 8000 BC. However, the accuracy of these results is not certain. Several fossil specimens of the woolly rhinoceros were found in Siberia as recently as 2007.

Woolly Rhinoceros Size and Appearance

Woolly rhinoceros measured about 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.7 meters) in length and had a shoulder height of about 6.6 feet (1.8 meters). Scientists are also convinced that the animals weighed around 4000 to 6000 pounds (1814 to 2721 kilograms) and had a pair of keratin horns, with the anterior one measuring about 24 inches (61 centimeters).

To adapt to icy conditions, the woolly rhinoceros had long, thick hair all over their bodies. They had huge humps reaching from their shoulders; they contained fat reserves, which aided the species’ survival through desolate winters. The humps also supported the woolly rhinoceros’ massive front horns.

Generally, compared to other rhinoceros species, the woolly rhinoceros had bigger bodies, longer heads, and relatively shorter legs. Based on observations from frozen specimens, scientists are convinced that woolly rhinoceroses’ long fur was mostly reddish-brown and had thick undercoats. The most dense hairs covered the animal’s neck and withers.

Since woolly rhinoceroses thrived in extremely cold habitats, their bodies were well-adapted to ensure survival. For instance, some body parts had significantly reduced surface areas to minimize heat loss.

This included their ears, which didn’t exceed 24 centimeters (9.5 inches). Rhinos from warmer environments have ears extending to 30 centimeters (12 inches). Woolly rhinoceroses also had shorter legs and tails, not to mention the thick skin that covered their bodies.

Where Did Woolly Rhinoceros Live?

Woolly rhinos are believed to have existed during the Pleistocene epoch and were members of the time’s megafauna. They inhabited northern Eurasia, with several woolly rhinoceros cave paintings in some parts of Asia and Europe. The last woolly rhino is believed to have lived in Northeast Siberia about 14,000 years ago when the species became extinct.

The Mating and Breeding Habits of Woolly Rhinoceros

Like most rhinos, woolly rhinoceros communicated through vocalizations, producing different sounds depending on the type of message they wanted to pass. They ranged from moos, growls, squeals, trumpet sounds, and snorts.

During the breeding season, male rhinos would find suitable partners and mate. Females reached reproduction maturity after about 6.5 to 7 years. After falling pregnant, the cow would leave the male and go through the gestation period (about 16 months) alone.

While male woolly rhinoceroses preferred to operate alone unless it was time for mating, the bonds between cows and calves were tight. Interestingly, woolly rhinoceros calves would attempt to stand an hour after being born to suckle.

The calves were ready to start grazing after two months, and weaning happened after about a year. Cows and calves stayed together for about 3 years.

Woolly Rhinoceros Diet

This rhinoceros species was majorly herbivorous. The animals fed on sedges and grasses growing in the mammoth steppe. Grazing the vegetation was easy for woolly rhinoceroses as they had well-adapted physical features. For instance, they had long and slanted heads that naturally faced down. Their tooth structure also allowed them to graze efficiently.

Besides grasses and sedges, woolly rhinoceroses also fed on woody plants such as alders, willows, and conifers, as pollen analysis suggests. There are also indications that the animals fed on flowers such as mosses and forbs.

One of the most interesting aspects of woolly rhinoceroses’ feeding behaviors is that they could switch from grazers to browsers, depending on the season. They were primarily grazers in the summer and turned to browsers when winter came.

Are Woolly Rhinoceros Related to Sumatran Rhinoceros?

Yes, they are! Technically, woolly rhinoceroses are related and resemble modern rhinos; the only telling difference is that the woolly rhino was covered with hair and was well-adapted to colder environments. The Sumatran rhinoceros are the closest living creatures to the woolly rhinos.

Woolly Rhinoceros Fossil

Over time, people have discovered frozen woolly rhinoceros fossil specimens from different locations. In Siberia, a head and two legs believed to be that of a woolly rhino were discovered at the Vilyuy River in 1771. Some miners also found the species’ carcass in Starunia, Russia, in October 1907. Other subsequent woolly rhinoceros fossils were found in Churapcha (1972), Kolyma River (2007), Chukochya River (2008), and most recently, Semyulyakh River, Russia (2014).

From observations and scientific studies, the skull of a woolly rhinoceros measured between 70 and 90 centimeters (30 and 35 inches). Because they were longer than most other rhinoceroses’, the woolly rhinoceros’ skull forced the animal’s head to face downward.

Woolly Rhinoceros Lifespan

Like their modern relatives, scientists estimate that the average life expectancy of a woolly rhinoceros is about 40 years.

When Did Woolly Rhinoceros Go Extinct?

Since no one can tell with certainty when the woolly rhinoceroses went extinct, the most acceptable answer to this question is usually about 14,000 years ago. That was when the Bolling-Allerod warming started, resulting in increased precipitation.

Woolly rhinoceroses preferred feeding low-growing herbs and grass. So, when precipitation increased, the vegetation grew into shrubs and trees. That, coupled with the species having relatively shorter limbs and rising ice levels, might have contributed to the woolly rhinoceros’s eventual extinction.

The Key Takeaway

Woolly rhinoceros is an extinct rhino species mainly inhabited the cooler regions of Asia, Europe, and some parts of North America. They had long horns, shorter legs, extended snouts, and were covered with wool, making them distinct from other rhino species. Estimates show that woolly rhinoceros became extinct about 14,000 years ago, probably due to increased precipitation. Woolly rhinoceros fossils have been found preserved in ice over time.

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