An Ultimate Guide to Coelodonta: The Woolly Rhinoceros

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Name Meaning“Hollow Tooth”Height1.45–1.6 meters (4.8–5.2 feet)
PronunciationSee-loh-don-tuhLength3.8-4.8 meters (12.5-16 feet)
EraCenozoic – Quaternary PeriodWeight1.5-2 tons (3,000-4,000 lbs)
ClassificationMammalia, Perissodactyla & RhinocerotidaeLocationSiberia, Mongolia, Russia & Germany

Woolly Rhinoceros Pictures

Computer generated image of Coelodonta
Computer-generated image of Coelodonta | Disneysaurus via Dinosaur Wiki

The Woolly Rhinoceros

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Coelodonta Woolly Rhinoceros Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Coelodonta Woolly Rhinoceros Concept

During the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs (between 3.7 million years and 10,000 years ago), Eurasia was filled with an assemblage of large mammals specially adapted to the extreme cold conditions of the continent at the time.

The woolly rhinoceros (genus Coelodonta) was one such “ice-age” mammal.

Members of the genus ‬Coelodonta looked very similar to present-day rhinos but had their entire bodies covered in fur.

Coelodonta had a widespread distribution throughout Eurasia and were among the most common land animals for about two and a half million years.

Life restoration of a Coelodonta
Life restoration of a Coelodonta | Mauricio Antón via Wikimedia CC BY 2.5

Because the woolly rhino lived alongside prehistoric humans, pieces of bones and other parts of this animal have been around for hundreds of years, even before they were officially studied.

The first official scientific description for this rhinoceros was published in 1769, and the Coelodonta genus was named officially in 1831. 

Since then, scientists have studied different bones, skin, fur, and other mummified remains of this rhino to recreate what it looked like and how it lived.

In this article, we’ll explain some of the most interesting findings about the woolly rhino.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

The woolly rhino had a similar build and appearance as the present-day rhinoceros. 

It had a robust and bulky build with a barrel-shaped body.

From their head to their tail, adult Coelodonta measured about 3.2 to 3.6 meters (10.5 to 11.8 feet) on average. 

They stood at a height of 1.45 to 1.6 meters (4.8–5.2 feet) at the shoulders and measured roughly two tons.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Coelodonta Woolly Rhinoceros Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Coelodonta Woolly Rhinoceros Size Comparison Chart

This puts them in the same weight category as modern white rhinoceros.  

One of the most distinctive features of the woolly rhino is its prominent horns. 

Both male and female Coelodonta had one long forward-facing horn and a smaller one between their eyes. 

Their horns were made of keratin material, just like that of their modern relatives. 

The longer horn measured about 1 to 1.35 meters (3.3–4.4 feet) for a mature adult, while the shorter one was about 47.5 centimeters (1.56 feet) long.

Overall, the head of the Coelodonta was longer than those of their living relatives. 

This rhino’s skull was between 70 and 90 centimeters (30 and 35 inches) long and was slightly oriented downwards. 

It had short legs and a prominent hump on the shoulder, which helped to support its massive head and also stored a reserve of fat for harsh winter seasons. 

Coelodonta had a stocky build
Coelodonta had a stocky build | MorphGuy via Prehistoric Kingdom Wiki

Unlike the smooth, almost hairless body of present-day rhinos, the woolly rhino was covered almost entirely in long fur. 

The long fur had a reddish-brown color, and a layer of thick, dark undercoat provided an added protection layer. 

The fur coats on their limbs were shorter than the ones on their head, back, and necks.

Habitat and Distribution

Coelodonta was alive during the Pleistocene Epoch on the ancient supercontinent known as Eurasia. 

Most of the fossils of this animal found so far are from the northern region of Eurasia, which includes parts of present-day Europe, Asia, and North America. 

Based on the distribution of fossil remains, the Coelodonta’s range most likely covered parts of Siberia, Alaska, and the northern regions of China. 

They were also present in Europe across locations like Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

The Coelodonta genus reached the peak of its diversity and geographical distribution during the second half of the Pleistocene Epoch.

They had the widest range of any known rhinoceros genera.

Coelodonta lived in a wide range of habitats in these regions, including lowlands, grasslands, river valleys, and plateaus. 

The Pleistocene Epoch was a time of major instability in the Earth’s climate. 

The epoch, which lasted between 2.6 million and 11,700 years ago, was characterized by an extremely cold climate that led to a series of glaciations, with extensive ice sheets covering most parts of the northern hemisphere. 

This was punctuated by warmer periods known as interglacial periods, during which the ice sheets melted, and sea levels rose. 

At least four species have been identified in the Coelodonta genus so far, each of these showing different geographic distribution patterns.

Coelodonta thibetana was the most primitive species of woolly rhinoceros, and it lived in the Tibetan Plateau during the Pliocene Epoch. 

Skulls of different Coelodonta species
Skulls of different Coelodonta species | DagdaMor via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Coelodonta nihowanensis is another primitive species that lived in Northern China during the Early Pleistocene. 

This group was later replaced by Coelodonta tologoijensis in this region of eastern Eurasia. 

Coelodonta antiquitatis had the widest distribution of all species in the genus. 

The woolly rhinoceros lived in the steppes of northern Eurasia and is considered the last representative of the genus.

Behavior and Diet

Coelodonta was a large terrestrial mammal with a sturdy, thickset frame. 

It had short limbs, which were strong and efficient for moving across the different terrains where this rhino lived. 

Like their modern relatives, woolly rhinoceroses were most likely solitary animals. 

Adults lived alone in territories that they defended violently. 

A charging Woolly Rhinoceros
A charging Woolly Rhinoceros | Szymon Górnicki via Wikiwand CC BY-SA 4.0

Females and their offspring probably shared smaller home ranges which occasionally overlapped with male territories. 

However, occasional interactions among individuals might have occurred, especially during the breeding season or periods of limited food resources. 

Due to the seasonal variation of vegetation in the Coelodonta’s habitat during glacial and interglacial periods, their choice of food probably varied as well. 

During the glacial periods of the Pleistocene Epoch, the landscape was covered by vast expanses of ice and snow, which formed a tundra environment characterized by unique vegetation like lichens, mosses, and low-lying grasses. 

During the interglacial periods, retreating ice sheets gave rise to more diverse ecosystems, such as coniferous forests, that provided additional habitats and food sources for Coelodonta

The Coelodonta’s mouth had sharp incising teeth at the front and molar teeth at the back.‭ 

Like many other herbivorous mammals, they had a gap between these two sets of teeth known as the diastema. 

Tooth of a Coelodonta antiquitatis
Tooth of a Coelodonta antiquitatis | Image via CataWiki

The upper lip of the woolly rhino was wide, just like that of modern white rhinoceros. 

This adaptation made it easier to pluck vegetation from the ground. 

Coelodonta was either a grazer (meaning it cropped grass from the ground like cows) or a browser (feeding from the leaves of low-lying plants), with the former being more likely due to the abundance of low-growing plants. 

Life Cycle

Like present-day rhinos, Coelodonta probably reproduced sexually. 

Breeding in rhinoceros species typically occurs during a specific mating season.

Experts think Coelondonta males would have had to compete for the right to mate with receptive females. 

The woolly rhino’s horns were probably used for display and intraspecific combat.

Evidence of this is recorded in ancient cave paintings. 

Cave paintings in Chauvet Cave
Cave paintings in Chauvet Cave | Claude Valette via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

After mating, the female Coelodonta would have undergone gestation, with the fertilized embryo developing within her body. 

The duration of the gestation period is uncertain, but it would have lasted for several months, after which the female would give birth to a live calf. 

Although juvenile woolly rhinos were most likely capable of standing and walking on their own shortly after birth, they still needed their mother for nourishment and protection in the early years of their life. 

It’s difficult to tell just how long Coelodonta lived. 

However, experts estimate that they have a lifespan of about 30 to 40 years. 

Evolution and History

All rhinoceroses, including living species and extinct ones like the Coelodonta, belong to the family Rhinocerotidae. 

Members of this family diverged from the perissodactyl ancestors during the Early Eocene Epoch. 

A Coelodonta during a snowy early Eocene Epoch
A Coelodonta during a snowy early Eocene Epoch | Mr Langlois10 via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Their ancestors were small and hornless, similar in appearance to small horses or tapirs. 

The oldest woolly mammoth evolved about 3.7 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch. 

The most primitive species in this genus is the Coelodonta thibetana, also known as the Tibetan woolly mammoth. 

They share a common ancestor with the Sumatran rhinoceros, which is still living today. 

The genus continued to diversify, and other species emerged over time. 

Coelodonta nihowanensis evolved during the early Pleistocene, and this was succeeded by Coelodonta tologoijensis, which appeared about two million years ago. 

The youngest species in the genus is Coelodonta antiquitatis

A mummified Coelodonta antiquitatis
A mummified Coelodonta antiquitatis | Ghedoghedo via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

It was the last representative of the genus and was alive until about 10,000 years ago. 

The woolly mammoths developed various adaptations to help them survive in their cold and harsh ecosystem. 

Their most apparent adaptation was the dense woolly coat, which was necessary for survival in the cold Pleistocene Epoch. 

They most likely developed this enhanced insulation gradually as their ancestors adapted to colder environments where they lived. 

In addition to their thick coat, other adaptations to survive the cold include thick skin, reduced ears (no longer than 24 centimeters), and short tails. 

Another unique morphological adaptation seen in this group was their long horns. 

Although this primarily served the purpose of defense and intraspecific combat, they also used their horns to dig through sheets of ice and snow and uncover buried vegetation. 

A Woolly rhinoceros skull with its long horn
A Woolly rhinoceros skull with its long horn | Didier Descouens via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Their nasal septum was also ossified, which would have been helpful for grazing underneath thick snow.

Interactions With Other Species

As a large herbivorous mammal, Coelodonta probably faced predation pressure from the large carnivorous predators of the Pleistocene, such as the cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea) and cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea).

Given their size, the woolly rhino was probably a challenging prey for these predators. 

Their intimidating horns would have also served as defensive adaptations and provided some level of protection. 

However, weak, young, or injured individuals were probably targeted and preyed on. 

The woolly rhinoceros lived alongside several other large herbivores, such as the woolly mammoth, saiga antelope, giant deer, and giant bison

These herbivores may have competed for the same food sources and other resources. 

A Coelodonta with other contemporary mammals
A Coelodonta with other contemporary mammals | Clumsystiggy via Prehistoric Wiki

Intraspecific encounters for mates, food, and territory would have occurred occasionally as well. 

Towards the end of their existence, woolly rhinoceroses shared their habitat with primitive humans.

Although direct evidence of their interactions is rare, experts think humans may have hunted or scavenged these rhinos.

Cultural Significance

Coelodonta and other ice-age megafaunas are important fossils to paleontologists seeking to understand the prehistoric world of the Pleistocene Epoch and the harsh conditions faced by these large mammoths. 

But even before Coelodonta became popular in the paleontological world, the woolly rhino was already a sort of cultural icon. 

Bones, horns, and other parts of this rhino have been long known, even before the species was officially described. 

A spear made of woolly rhino horn.
A spear made of woolly rhino horn | Clumsystiggy via Prehistoric Wiki

These remains were the basis of various myths and folklore across different cultures, such as dragons and the lindworm. 

As seen from the numerous cave paintings of these creatures, ancient humans encountered the Coelodonta

At least 20 drawings of woolly rhinos have been identified in paleolithic rock paintings. 

These cave paintings depict the animal in various forms, including scenes of them being hunted by humans as well as intraspecific combat between woolly rhinos. 

In addition to contributing to our understanding of Earth’s history, Coelodonta may also provide some insights into the lifestyle of ancient humans.


Coelodonta is an extinct genus of rhinoceros that lived between 3.7 to about 10,000 years ago. 

The earliest known species in the genus (Coelodonta thibetana) were alive during the Pliocene Epoch, while the last surviving woolly rhinos lived during the Pleistocene.

Fossils of at least two other species of woolly rhino have been identified from different locations in Europe and Asia. 

The large herbivore was about the size of a present-day white rhino but had a longer head adorned with a pair of large horns. 

The woolly rhino’s body was also covered by a layer of long, thick hair. 

This was a necessary adaptation to survive in the cold, harsh climate of Pleistocene Eurasia. 

The woolly rhino went extinct about 14,000 years ago and was probably hunted by humans in its last few thousand years. 


Is the woolly rhino real?

Yes, the woolly rhino is a real rhinoceros genus that was alive during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs. 

It lived in parts of Europe and Asia and was alive till about 14,000 years ago. 

How did woolly rhinos go extinct?

A combination of factors may have led to the decline of the woolly rhinos, but the most popular theory is that climate change contributed to their decline. 

The warming climate led to the reduction of the typical habitat and food sources of these rhinoceros which caused their extinction. 

What does Coelodonta mean?

The name Coelodonta is of Greek origin and translates as “hollow tooth.” 

It refers to the deep grooves in the molars of this rhinoceros.


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