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Hardhat Giraffes

Hardhat Giraffes

Above: An artist's depiction of Discokeryx xiezhi

Scientists in China have discovered a previously unknown extinct cousin of giraffes with a very unique set of headgear. The fossil was first discovered in 1996 in China’s Shenzhen desert, but only now that the skull’s been examined with a CT scan has it been found that the fossil’s inner ear is nearly identical to the Giraffoid family. 

This “strange beast” as the fossil had been heretofore known has been dubbed Discokeryx xiezhi, named in part for a horned creature from Chinese folklore. It sported a kind of bone helmet atop its head, which along with enforced vertebrate made the animal an adept fighter as it competed against other males for sexual partners. Not unlike Pachycephalosaurus, it could use its bony skull plate to bash against its foes.

This is a major discovery in understanding the evolutionary track of today’s giraffes. It had always been assumed that giraffes evolved their distinctive long necks to reach high vegetation other animals could not. The discovery of Discokeryx xiezhi supports the proposed idea that giraffes, like their thick-skulled cousins, might’ve evolved their long necks for combat, with access to new food sources as a fortuitous benefit. 

Giraffes are known to fight each other by “necking”; using their long necks to swing their heads into each other’s bodies during a fight. This discovery in China provides not just a fascinating glimpse into the life of an extinct creature, but a clue into the evolution of one of the most distinctive animals walking the planet today.

Take a look at this amazing study to see more!

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