Sub-class Placentalia

Order Proboscidea

Family Gomphotheriidae (gomphotheres)

Species Cuvieronius tropicus

Gomphotheres are related to primitive elephantids, and share many features with them. Their grinding teeth, for example, had many more cusps and more complicated wear patterns than those of mastodons. Cuvieronius, the last genus of New World gomphotheres to become extinct, was widely distributed in North, Central, and South America. In feeding habits it was presumably a browser. In South America, this taxon survived until about 11,000 radiocarbon years before present; they apparently became extinct somewhat earlier in North America.

See also: Kurtén, B., and E. Anderson, 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press: New York.






 


Sub-class Placentalia

Order Proboscidea

Family Elephantidae (elephants, mammoths)

Species Mammuthus primigenius

Closely related to living African and Asian elephants (Loxodonta and Elephas), the woolly mammoth is another classic ice-age icon. Mammuthus primigenius originated in Eurasia about 250,000 years ago and entered the New World over the Bering landbridge sometime thereafter.

It stood nine to eleven feet at the shoulder, and weighed four to six tons. The external appearance of this species is very well known, thanks to the discovery of numerous cave paintings in Europe and numerous carcasses and body parts recovered from the permafrost region of northern Siberia and Alaska. The woolly mammoth was covered with long hair and had a high, domed head, a humped, sloping back, and large, extravagantly curved and twisted tusks.

Unlike many other species that disappeared after the end of the Wisconsinan glaciation, woolly mammoths were most certainly hunted by humans. Remains have been found in archeological sites in various parts of Eurasia and North America. Interestingly, human predation of mammoths goes back at least 40,000 years, but the species did not disappear until the end of the Pleistocene in North America and continental Eurasia.

Charles Knight painting © AMNH


It is fascinating that a single population of mammoths managed to survive until about 4,000 years ago on isolated Wrangel Island off northeastern Siberia.

Be sure to see a mounted specimen (the real thing!) of this species at the AMNH!

See also: Lister, A., and P. Bahn, 1994. Mammoths. Macmillan: USA.






 


Sub-class Placentalia

Order Proboscidea

Family Mammutidae (Mastodons)

Species Mammut americanum

  
Having straighter tusks and a flatter head than the mammoth, mastodons were as much as nine feet high at the shoulder and weighed four to five tons. Although closely related to true elephants (Elephantidae), their evolutionary lines separated at least 25 million years ago. A distinguishing feature of mastodons, as compared to true elephants, is the form of their grinding teeth (molars). Elephantids have molars made up of numerous lamellae that form highly efficient milling surfaces, good for grinding up fibrous vegetation. Mastodons had more primitive teeth, consisting of a shell of enamel over dentine (much like our own molars) . Mastodon species have been found at archeological sites, indicating that they were actively hunted in some areas. Although mastodons became extinct more than 10,000 calendar years ago, Thomas Jefferson thought that they must still exist somewhere in the Northwest -- and directed Lewis and Clark to find out!

Be sure to see a mounted specimen (the real thing!) of this species at the AMNH!

See also: Shoshani, J., and P. Tassy (eds.), 1996. The Proboscidea,... Oxford University Press: New York; Gruhn, R., and A. L. Bryan, 1984. The record of Pleistocene megafaunal extinction at Taima-taima, Northern Venezuela. In P. S. Martin and R. G. Klein (eds.), Quaternary Extinctions, a Prehistoric Revolution, pp. 128-137. University of Arizona Press: Tucson.