We know that men, particularly young men, tend to take risks that women and older men try to avoid. We often think of this as wanting to impress one's peer group combined with not really understanding the danger due to immaturity. It turns out that risky behavior is not limited to the human species, or even existing species. Unearthed mammoths reveal that males are overly represented in dying by falling into material that would preserve their remains, like ice, mudflows, or sinkholes. We might assume that mammoths that died of old age or disease were exposed to the elements and decomposed. Evolutionary biologist Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History explained.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, he and his colleagues analyzed DNA from nearly 100 mammoth bones, teeth and tusks, and found that about two-thirds came from males. They speculate the reason for the skewed sex-ratio may have to do with the risky behavior that young males take after leaving the protection of their mothers to live on their own.
“Old females are very knowledgeable, they know best,” he said.
The finding was an accident, according to Patrícia Pečnerová, a doctoral student at Stockholm University and lead author on the study. It came while she was entering data for a different project on mammoth genetics.
“While filling this in on the spreadsheet we saw that there were too many males, more than there should be,” she said. “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.”