Biologists in Sweden made the accidental discovery that more males than females died engaging in risky behavior after doing a genetic analysis on the remains of mammoths that were found in natural death traps.
After analyzing 98 Siberian mammoth remains, the Swedish researchers confirmed that two-thirds were male. A similar study in Hot Springs, South Dakota found that of fourteen dead mammoths, thirteen were young adult males and only one was a female.
“In many species, males tend to do somewhat stupid things that end up getting them killed in silly ways,” said Swedish Museum of Natural History biologist Love Dalén, “and it appears that may have been true for mammoths also.”
“Old females are very knowledgeable, they know best,” Dalén said.
Of course the conclusion drawn by the biologists that male mammoths engaged in riskier behaviors more often than females is speculative, but seems to make sense based on the behavior of modern day elephant groups.
Elephants live in primarily matriarchal societies where the older females protect younger elephants. That is until the younger male elephants reach puberty and set off on their own or join bachelor groups (which are often led by inexperienced male elephants).
There’s no reason to think that mammoth behavior deviated greatly from elephant behavior.
“While filling this in on the spreadsheet we saw that there were too many males, more than there should be,” said the study’s lead author Patrícia Pečnerová. “We were really surprised to see there were more than twice as many males as females because there was no previous research or indication that that should be the case.”
The scientists surmised that male mammoths took more chances than their female counterparts, and ended up succumbing to natural death traps – falling into sinkholes and through thin ice, or getting swept away in mudflows and the like – which also ended up preserving their remains.
Call it evolutionary adaptation. More females than males are needed for the continuation of a species, so, evolutionarily speaking, females became more cautious.
But this study also confirms what every other Gary Larson ‘The Far Side’ cartoon suggested: males do more silly things than females.
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