Amebelodon is a member of a diverse group of primitive proboscideans called gomphotheres, a group that also gave rise to the modern elephants and their close relative the mammoth. Amebelodon first appeared in the Great Plains and Gulf Coast regions of North America during the late Miocene, roughly between 9 and 8 million years ago, and apparently became extinct on this continent sometime around 6 million years ago. It managed to migrate to Asia via the Bering land bridge where it has been found in a number of late Miocene sites, particularly in China. The youngest record of Amebelodon is from a 5 million year old site in North Africa .
varied considerably in size. Amebelodon floridanus
was smaller than a modern Asian elephant, while Amebelodon britti
, reached a shoulder height of 8 feet at the shoulder and a likely weight of 10 metric tons, similar to the largest mammoths and considerably larger than the living African elephant.
Like other typical gomphotheres, Amebelodon
possessed two sets of tusks
, two uppers (much like those found on modern elephants), and two lowers that extended from the very front of the lower jaws. However, the lower tusks of Amebelodon
were distinctive in that they were relatively long, slender, and flattened. Because of the resemblance of these lower tusks to shovels, Amebelodon
is commonly referred to as a "shovel-tusked" gomphothere (another shovel-tusked gomphothere that may or may not be closely related to Amebelodon
). There has long been an assumption that these lower tusks were actually used as shovels by the animal during feeding, presumably to scoop up water plants. However, an analysis of wear patterns has shown that these lower tusks were most likely used in a variety of ways in addition to shoveling, including scraping bark from trees . Overall, the evidence indicates that this animal was a versatile browser (an animal that eats broad-leaved plants rather than grass), feeding in both wet and dry settings in a variety of ways. For reasons that are not clearly explained in the literature, Amebelodon
is usually portrayed with a short, flap-like trunk (this is true of the picture in the external link below). However, considerable evidence indicates that Amebelodon
actually had a long, flexible trunk very much like that found in modern elephants, and that it probably was important for feeding .