Saturday, September 10, 2011


The woolly rhinoceros is extremely extinct.  You cannot find a live one anywhere, not in Europe or Asia or even in your local zoo.  There are some rhinos in Africa, but they are not woolly, so they are not the kind of rhino I'm going to talk about today.

The hollow teeth look like
they have little faces!

The scientific name for woolly rhinos is Coelodonta antiquitatis.  This translates as "old hollow-tooth," which is kind of a fun nickname for the woolly rhino.  I could not find any explanation about why these animals had hollow teeth.  All I know is that they did.

Woolly rhinos started out about 350,000 years ago.  They mostly lived in the steppes of Eurasia, all the way from Scotland to South Korea.  This was during the Pleistocene Period, so there was lots of snowy and icy weather.  Luckily, the rhinos had a thick, double coat of hair to keep them warm.  Also they had small ears and eyes, and a stocky body.  An adult rhino was about 12 feet long, 6 feet tall, and weighed 2 to 3 tons.  This is bigger than the white rhino, which lives in Africa today.

Woolly rhinos did not live in herds.  They liked to hang out by themselves or maybe with a few other family members.  Nobody knows exactly what they ate, but it was probably grasses and sedges that they got by grazing.  They might have browsed shrubs and short trees, but most scientists think it's more likely that they were grazers and not browsers.

The thing you might notice most about the woolly rhino was that it had two scary-looking horns, which were made of something called keratin.  The bigger horn could be as long as 3 feet.  It was used for scooping snow off the grass, for fighting, and to attract mates.

When people first started finding the bones of woolly rhinos, the only way they knew what the animal looked like was because of some cave paintings in France that dated back about 30,000 years.  Then in 1929, in an oil field in Starunia, Poland, a whole woolly rhino body was found.  It had everything except the hair and the hooves.  You can now see this rhino, who is a female, in the Academy of Sciences Museum of Natural History in Krakow.

The woolly rhino in the Krakow museum
In the most recent issue of the magazine Science, which just came out on September 2, there is an article about a new woolly rhino in Tibet.  Well, this is not a "new" woolly rhino.  It's actually one that is even older than any woolly rhinos found so far.  This find includes a complete skull, a little bit of the neck, and some of the leg bones.  The name for this rhino is Coelodonta thibetana.  It dates back to the Pliocene Period, 3.6 million years ago, and might mean that woolly rhinos first came from the Himalayas in Tibet.

Back in the days when this Tibetan rhino was first evolving, the climate was warmer, but the Tibetan rhino had a thick, furry coat because it lived high up on the Tibetan Plateau.  Then when the Ice Age came along, the rhinos moved out of the mountains and started living in northern Asia and Europe, where it had also got cold because of the Ice Age.  Woolly rhinos never seem to have crossed the Bering Strait into North America, but my brother Nicky keeps digging in our back yard, and I think he is looking for a fossil bone to show that this theory is wrong.

Anyway, a bunch of big animals such as the woolly mammoth, woolly rhino, and giant sloths all went extinct at about the same time.  This might have been because the humans and the Neanderthals were hunting them.  Or it might have been because of the climate changes at the end of the Ice Age.  Or maybe the animals all caught some disease and died.  Anyway, by 13,000 or 10,000 years ago, the woolly rhino was all gone.  Which is too bad, because I think a dog bed made of nice woolly rhino fur would be the perfect thing to keep me warm this winter!


  1. Di here! Since mom is being soooo lazy and just laying around, I get to write again. I had no idea about the Woolly Rhinos...but then I didn't even know about Rhinos. Guess I don't get out much. My mom and I wonder why the rhino in the museum is laying on his/her back? Maybe that's the way they like to sleep? I think your idea of a nice woolly rhino bed would be very nice! Should we go overeas and try to find a woolly rhino? I don't think my mom will let me go that far, since I'm not even allowed out of the house.
    Love, Di

  2. Dear Piper-

    Thank you for another informative blog today! You know how much we like to learn about endangered/extinct animals in this house. My mom immediately wondered about how the wooly rhino fiber would felt (she's geeky like that), but I pondered more important things, like how wooly rhino burgers would taste.

    Neither of us knew that wooly rhinos had hollow teeth. Do extant rhinos have hollow teeth? That sounds like it would hurt. Especially when a piece of popcorn got stuck in that hole.

    I am, once again, famous! You can see me on the BCOA webpage now! Mom and I worked very hard on this educational program on agility, so please check it out.

    -Zest, superstar in training

  3. Thanks, Piper!
    In school (Clay-Platte Montessori) we have been studying the time line of life and early humans. I want to show the children your report on wooly rhinos. Maybe one of them will want to do their own report.
    If we gave grades in Montessori, I'd give you an A+, but we don't so I'll just say this is fascinating information presented very clearly. Thanks, again, Piper!
    Your mom's friend,

  4. Dear Di,
    I don't know why the woolly rhino in the museum got mounted on her back, but maybe it's to show she went belly-up! Hahahaha! I'm not sure where we could find any woolly rhino fur for our beds, but maybe we could use yak fur instead. I'll have to do some research on where the yaks live, though, so we'll know where to find them.
    Love, Piper

  5. Dear Zest,
    I just watched the video of you doing your superstar agility thing, and I was totally impressed. I never ever run that fast unless I am chasing a cicada, but guess what! I can now jump up on the bed again, which I couldn't do for a while because of my Cushing's Disease. Also my mom thinks maybe my hair is getting thicker again.

    But anyway, about woolly rhinos, I don't know if extant rhinos have holes in their teeth or not. This would be an excellent question for me to research, sometime when I am not busy taking a nap, which I will be shortly. I would like to be able to research how woolly rhino burgers taste, but I am afraid that will not be possible. Maybe we can get in touch with some of our distant basenji cousins in Africa and find out if they have eaten any extant rhino burgers. I think it would be hard to chew through their skin to get to the yummy part, though.
    Your friend, Piper

  6. Dear Aunt Nancy,
    I'm glad you liked my report and that you would have given it an A+ if you were giving it a grade, which you weren't. I hope your students will like it, too. Maybe they will be surprised to learn that a dog can write her own blog! Some people don't believe that this blog is my own work, but it is, of course!
    Your friend,

  7. It's a good thing to be able to jump up on the bed. My brother Jet the trying who will be 13 in a few months has a hard time doing that. He has to really think about it. But my older brother Digital the brindlewonderkid who will be 14 in December can still get up on the bed. Mom says this is okay because Jet would just get up there and growl at everyone. And of course I can easily hop up there.