Bones of a cool Ice Age animal! Answer to FoW #35.


Cervical (neck) vertebrae of an Ice Age muskox.

We had some good guesses from our readers as to what animal these bones are from, and we had to consider such species in identifying these vertebrae. You can see in the photo below that the cervical (neck) vertebrae of the larger, more common species from Ohio do not match the unknown bones! Bison, which are not pictured, are very similar in the post-cranial skeleton to cattle and can also be eliminated from the list of suspects. The most noticeable difference is how wide the body (centrum) of the vertebrae are, much wider than any of the species below.

So we’re left with a large ungulate, with a relatively short, wide neck. Hmmmm!? The only animal that could fit this bill is a muskox! Could it be!? There have been only a handful of records of muskoxen from Ohio, and this would be a nice find. So I sent the photos to the well-known Pleistocene vertebrate paleontologist Dr. Greg McDonald of the National Park Service; he fired back an email: “They are indeed muskox!”.

Cervical vertebrae of horse, cattle, and prehistoric elk.

Now the question is, what species are they from? There were two types of muskox in Ohio during the Pleistocene, the modern Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) which now lives in the Arctic, and the Woodland Muskox (Bootherium bombifrons) which became extinct at the end of the Ice Age. The Woodland Muskox was taller and thinner than the modern Muskox, and was the most common muskox in the midwest during the Pleistocene. To properly identify these vertebrae, we’ll need to see the bones in person and maybe take them to another museum to compare to known specimens of muskox. We are hoping that the bones will be donated soon to the Ohio History Connection. Then we can not only determine what species they are, but also have the specimens available for research, teaching, and exhibit. Which species do you think they will be from!? We’ll give the answer as soon as we know!

Modern Musk Ox
Skull of the extinct muskox Bootherium 

Posted May 1, 2015

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