There's a mind-blowing theory about camel evolution that might surprise you

It’s hard to think of an animal better adapted for a hot, desert climate than a camel. They are the quintessential desert animal.

Or are they?

A few years ago scientists uncovered bewildering fossil evidence that camels once roamed in the Arctic Circle — the exact opposite of their niche habitat today.

Latif Nasser, Radiolab‘s director of research, told the story during a live TED Talk in New York on November 4 as an example of how the tiniest piece of scientific evidence can upset everything we thought we knew about the world. Even something as fundamental as the idea that camels are built for deserts.

Keep scrolling to see how camels might have survived in the Arctic.

The story starts in Ellesmere Island -- a northern island in the Arctic archipelago.

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Palaeobiologist Natalia Rybczynski led an excavation there a few years ago.

Which is when Rybczynski came across a very strange fossil. After a few more return trips and more digging, she pieced together part of a limb bone.

But she still wasn't sure what it was. So she teamed up with researcher Mike Buckley to use a brand-new fossil analysis technique, called collagen fingerprinting.

The technique revealed that the tiny fragmentary remains of the fossil were actually from a camel.

From North America, they crossed over the Bering land bridge into Eurasia.

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So yes, camels are American. Nasser had some fun with this idea during the TED Talk.

...Or maybe not. During his TED Talk, Nasser pointed out that while a camel's broad feet help them traverse sand dunes, they'd also be a huge asset in the snow. They'd act like snow shoes.

And their humps that store fat (not water, which Nasser said he was shocked to learn) would have provided extra insulation against the bitter cold.

Of course an arctic camel wouldn't resemble the kind of camels we're used to, Nasser said. They were probably huge, standing about 9 feet tall and weighing around 1 ton.

After all that talk of camels, Nasser had to bring a real one out on stage.

Getting it inside the theatre that sits just a few blocks from Times Square looked like a challenge.

And a spectacle.

For Nasser, the camel story is a reminder of how important science is.

Camels are the perfect example of the how the tiniest shred of evidence can completely change everything we thought we knew about the world, he said.

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