MASTODONS (Greek : μαστός "breast" and ὀδούς, "tooth")
are any species of extinct mammutid proboscideans in the genus MAMMUT,
distantly related to elephants , that inhabited North and Central
America during the late
Miocene or late
Pliocene up to their
extinction at the end of the
Pleistocene 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.
Mastodons lived in herds and were predominantly forest dwelling
animals that fed on a mixed diet obtained by browsing and grazing with
a seasonal preference for browsing, similar to living elephants.
M. americanum, the American mastodon, is the youngest and best-known
species of the genus. They disappeared from
North America as part of a
mass extinction of most of the
Pleistocene megafauna , widely presumed
to have been related to overexploitation by Clovis hunters , and
possibly also to climate change.
* 1 Taxonomy
* 1.1 Evolution
* 2 Description
* 3 Paleobiology
* 3.1 Social behavior
* 3.2 Diet
* 4 Distribution and habitat
* 5 Extinction
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
Exhuming the First American Mastodon, 1806 painting by Charles
The first remnant of Mammut, a tooth some 2.2 kg (5 lb) in weight,
was discovered in the village of
Claverack, New York , in 1705. The
mystery animal became known as the "incognitum". The first bones to
be collected and studied scientifically were found in 1739 at Big Bone
Lick State Park , Kentucky, by French soldiers, who carried them to
Mississippi River , from where they were transported to the
National Museum of Natural History in
Paris . Some time later,
similar teeth were found in South Carolina, which, according to the
slaves, looked remarkably similar to those of African elephants . This
was soon followed by discoveries of complete bones and tusks in Ohio;
people started referring to the "incognitum" as a mammoth, like the
ones that were being dug out in Siberia. Anatomists noted that the
teeth of mammoth and elephants were different from those of the
"incognitum", which possessed rows of large conical cusps, indicating
that they were dealing with a distinct species. In 1806 the French
Georges Cuvier named the incognitum "mastodon".
The name mastodon (or mastodont) means "breast tooth" (Ancient Greek
: μαστός "breast" and ὀδούς, "tooth"), and was assigned
by the French naturalist
Georges Cuvier in 1817, for the nipple-like
projections on the crowns of its molars.
Mastodon as a genus name is obsolete; the valid name is Mammut, a
name that preceded Cuvier's description, making
Mastodon a junior
synonym . The change was met with resistance, and authors sometimes
applied "Mastodon" as an informal name; consequently it became the
common term for members of the genus.
M. americanum, the American mastodon, the best known and the last
species of Mammut. Its earliest occurrences date from the early-middle
Pliocene (early Blancan stage). It had a continent-wide distribution,
especially during the
Pleistocene epoch, known from fossil sites
ranging from present-day
New England in the north, to
Florida , southern
California , and as far south as
Honduras . The
American mastodon resembled a woolly mammoth in appearance, with a
thick coat of shaggy hair. It had tusks that sometimes exceeded 5
meters (16 ft) in length; they curved upwards, but less dramatically
than those of the woolly mammoth. Its main habitat was cold spruce
woodlands, and it is believed to have browsed in herds. It became
extinct at the end of the
Pleistocene approximately 11,000 years ago.
M. matthewi—found in the Snake Creek Formation of Nebraska, dating
from the late Hemphillian. Some authors consider it practically
indistinguishable from M. americanum. There is one report of it in
M. raki—Its remains were found in the Palomas Formation, near Truth
or Consequences, New Mexico , dating from the early-middle Pliocene,
between 4.5 and 3.6 Ma. It coexisted with
Equus simplicidens and
Gigantocamelus and differs from M. americanum in having a relatively
longer and narrower third molar, similar to the description of the
defunct genus Pliomastodon, which supports its arrangement as an early
species of Mammut. However, like M. matthewi, some authors do not
consider it sufficiently distinct from M. americaum to warrant its own
M. cosoensis—found in the Coso Formation of California, dating from
the late Pliocene, originally a species of Pliomastodon, it was later
assigned to Mammut.
Since a tentative 1977 report of M. matthewi in China, there have
been no reports of currently recognized Mammut species outside of
North America according to Paleobiology database (which does not
recognize M. borsoni ). However, the status of Mammut or Zygolophodon
borsoni in the literature appears equivocal.
Comparison of woolly mammoth (L) and American mastodon (R)
Excavation of a specimen in a golf course in
Heath, Ohio , 1989
Mammut is a genus of the extinct family
Mammutidae , related to the
Elephantidae (mammoths and elephants), from which
it originally diverged approximately 27 million years ago. The
following cladogram shows the placement of the American mastodon among
other proboscideans, based on hyoid characteristics:
MAMMUT AMERICANUM (AMERICAN MASTODON)
Loxodonta africana (African elephant)
Elephas maximus (Asian elephant)
Mammuthus columbi (Columbian mammoth)
Over the years, several fossils from localities in North America,
Africa and Asia have been attributed to Mammut, but only the North
American remains have been named and described, one of them being M.
furlongi, named from remains found in the Juntura Formation of Oregon,
dating from the late Miocene. However, it is no longer considered
valid, leaving only four valid species.
A complete mtDNA sequence has been obtained from the tooth of an M.
americanum skeleton found in permafrost in northern Alaska. The
remains are thought to be 50,000 to 130,000 years old. This sequence
has been used as an outgroup to refine divergence dates in the
evolution of the Elephantidae. The rate of mtDNA sequence change in
proboscideans was found to be significantly lower than in primates.
Restoration of an American mastodon
Modern reconstructions based on partial and skeletal remains reveal
that mastodons were very similar in appearance to elephants and, to a
lesser degree, mammoths , though not closely related to either one.
Compared to mammoths, mastodons had shorter legs, a longer body and
were more heavily muscled, a build similar to that of the current
Asian elephants . The average body size of the species M. americanum
was around 2.3 m (7 ft 7 in) in height at the shoulders, corresponding
to a large female or a small male, but large males could grow up to
2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) in height. However, the 35-year-old specimen AMNH
9950 grew 2.89 metres (9.5 ft) tall and weighed 7.8 tonnes (7.7 long
tons; 8.6 short tons), and another male grew 3.25 metres (10.7 ft)
tall and weighed 11 tonnes (11 long tons; 12 short tons).
American mastodon molars at the State Museum of Pennsylvania
Like modern elephants, the females were smaller than the males. They
had a low and long skull with long curved tusks, with those of the
males being more massive and more strongly curved. Mastodons had
cusp-shaped teeth, very different from mammoth and elephant teeth
(which have a series of enamel plates), well-suited for chewing leaves
and branches of trees and shrubs.
Female and calf American mastodon at the George Page Museum
Based on the characteristics of mastodon bone sites, it can be
inferred that, as in modern proboscideans, the mastodon social group
consisted of adult females and young, living in bonded groups called
mixed herds. The males abandoned the mixed herds once reaching sexual
maturity and lived either alone or in male bond groupings. As in
modern elephants, there probably was no seasonal synchrony of mating
activity, with both males and females seeking out each other for
mating when sexually active.
Mastodons have been characterized as predominantly browsing animals.
Most accounts of gut contents have identified coniferous twigs as the
dominant element in their diet. Other accounts (Burning tree mastodon)
have reported no coniferous content and suggest selective feeding on
low, herbaceous vegetation, implying a mixed browsing and grazing
diet, with evidence provided by studies of isotopic bone chemistry
indicating a seasonal preference for browsing.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
Restoration of an American mastodon herd by
Charles R. Knight
The range of most species of Mammut is unknown as their occurrences
are restricted to few localities, the exception being the American
mastodon (M. americanum), which is one of the most widely distributed
Pleistocene proboscideans in North America. M. americanum fossil sites
range in time from the faunal stages of Blancan to Rancholabrean and
in locations from as far north as Alaska, as far east as Florida, and
as far south as the state of Puebla in central Mexico, with an
isolated record from Honduras, probably reflecting the results of the
maximum expansion achieved by the American mastodon during the Late
Pleistocene. A few isolated reports tell of mastodons being found
along the east coast up to the
New England region, with high
concentrations in the Mid-Atlantic region. There is strong evidence
indicating that the members of Mammut were forest dwelling
proboscideans, predominating in woodlands and forests, and browsed on
trees and shrubs. They apparently did not disperse southward to South
America, it being speculated that this was because of a dietary
specialization on a particular type of vegetation.
Fossil evidence indicates that mastodons probably disappeared from
North America about 10,500 years ago as part of a mass extinction of
most of the
Pleistocene megafauna that is widely presumed to have been
a result of human hunting pressure. The latest
the Americas and expanded to relatively large numbers 13,000 years
ago, and their hunting may have caused a gradual attrition of the
mastodon population. Analysis of tusks of mastodons from the
American Great Lakes region over a span of several thousand years
prior to their extinction in the area shows a trend of declining age
at maturation; this is contrary to what one would expect if they were
experiencing stresses from an unfavorable environment, but is
consistent with a reduction in intraspecific competition that would
result from a population being reduced by human hunting.
* Paleontology portal
List of museums and colleges with mastodon fossils on display
Manis Mastodon Site
* ^ Browsing is a type of herbivory in which a herbivore (or, more
narrowly defined, a folivore ) feeds on leaves , soft shoots , or
fruits of high growing, generally woody, plants such as shrubs . This
is contrasted with grazing , usually associated with animals feeding
on grass or other low vegetation.
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