Definitions

mastodon

mastodon

[mas-tuh-don]
mastodon, name for a number of prehistoric mammals of the extinct genus Mammut, from which modern elephants are believed to have developed. The earliest known forms lived in the Oligocene epoch in Africa. These were long-jawed mastodons about 41/2 ft (137 cm) high, with four tusks and a greatly elongated face. Their descendants in the Miocene epoch were the size of large elephants, the latest forms having long, flexible trunks, like those of elephants, and only two tusks. During Miocene times they spread over Europe, Asia, and North America. The mastodons were forest dwellers; they obtained their food by browsing and their teeth were more numerous and of a simpler form than those of the elephant. They were apparently extinct in the Old World by the early Pleistocene epoch but survived in North America until late Pleistocene times. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Proboscidae, family Mammutidae.

Any of several extinct elephant species (genus Mastodon) that lived worldwide 23.7 million–10,000 years ago or later in North America, where they were contemporaneous with historic American Indian groups. Well-preserved remains are quite common. Mastodons ate leaves and had small grinding teeth and long, parallel, upward-curving upper tusks; males also had short lower tusks. Shorter than modern elephants, they had long, heavily built bodies and short, pillarlike legs. Their long hair was reddish brown. The skull was similar to that of modern elephants but lower and flatter, and the ears were small. Human hunting may have played a role in the mastodon's extinction. Seealso mammoth.

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Mastodons or Mastodonts (from Greek μαστός and οδούς, meaning "nipple tooth") are members of the extinct genus Mammut of the order Proboscidea and form the family Mammutidae; they resembled, but were distinct from, the woolly mammoth, which belongs to the family Elephantidae. Mastodons were browsers, while mammoths were grazers.

Habitat

Mastodons are thought to have first appeared almost four million years ago. They were native to both Eurasia and North America but the Eurasian species Mammut borsoni died out approximately three million years ago - fossils having been found in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and northern Greece. Mammut americanum disappeared from North America about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as most other Pleistocene megafauna. It is known from fossils found ranging from present-day Alaska and New England in the north, to Florida, southern California, and as far south as Honduras.

Though their habitat spanned a large territory, mastodons were most common in the ice age spruce forests of the eastern United States, as well as in warmer lowland environments. Their remains have been found as far as 300 kilometers offshore of the northeastern United States, in areas that were dry land during the low sea level stand of the last ice age. Mastodon fossils have been found in South America; on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, USA (Manis Mastodon Site), in Kentucky (particularly noteworthy are early finds in what is now Big Bone Lick State Park); the Kimmswick Bone Bed in Missouri; in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, Canada; in Richland County, Wisconsin; La Grange, Texas; Southern Louisiana; and north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA.

Description

While mastodons were furry like woolly mammoths and similar in height at roughly three meters at the shoulder, the resemblance was superficial. They differed from mammoths primarily in the blunt, conical, nipple-like projections on the crowns of their molars, which were more suited to chewing leaves than the high-crowned teeth mammoths used for grazing; the name mastodon (or mastodont) means "nipple teeth" and is also an obsolete name for their genus. Their skulls were larger and flatter than those of mammoths, while their skeleton was stockier and more robust. Mastodons also seem to have lacked the undercoat characteristic of mammoths.

The tusks of the mastodon sometimes exceeded five meters in length and were nearly horizontal, in contrast with the more curved mammoth tusks. Young males had vestigial lower tusks that were lost in adulthood. However, it has been proven that female mastodons had lower pairs of tusks. The tusks were probably used to break branches and twigs, although some evidence suggests males may have used them in mating challenges; one tusk is often shorter than the other, suggesting that, like humans and modern elephants, mastodons may have had laterality. Examination of fossilized tusks revealed a series of regularly spaced shallow pits on the underside of the tusks. Microscopic examination showed damage to the dentin under the pits. It is theorized that the damage was caused when the males were fighting over mating rights. The curved shape of the tusks would have forced them downward with each blow, causing damage to the newly forming ivory at the base of the tusk. The regularity of the damage in the growth patterns of the tusks indicates that this was an annual occurrence, probably occurring during the spring and early summer.

Extinction

Recent studies indicate that tuberculosis may have been partly responsible for the extinction of the mastodon 10,000 years ago.

Another influencing factor to their eventual extinction in America during the late Pleistocene may have been the presence of Paleo-Indians, who entered the American continent in relatively large numbers 13,000 years ago. Their hunting caused a gradual attrition to the mastodon and mammoth populations, significant enough that over time the mastodons were hunted to extinction.

In September 2007, Mark Holley, an underwater archeologist with the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council who teaches at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan, said that they might have discovered a boulder (3.5 to high x long) with a prehistoric carving in the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. The granite rock has markings that resemble a mastodon with a spear in its side. Confirmation that the markings are an ancient petroglyph will require more evidence.

Current excavations

Current excavations are going on annually at the Hiscock site in Byron, New York, for mastodon and related paleo-Indian artifacts. The site was discovered in 1959 by the Hiscock family while digging a pond with a backhoe; they found a large tusk and stopped digging. The Buffalo Museum of Science has organized the dig since 1983. It has been called one of the richest sites available for mastodon-related artifacts. The site sits on swampland that was covered by Lake Tonawanda, which was a glacier runoff lake formed over 10,000 years ago. It has been confirmed that mastodons would flock there to eat the sodium-rich clay during one of the last great droughts of the paleolithic.

In august 2008, miners in Romania have unearthed the skeleton of a 2.5 million-year-old mastodon, believed to be one of the best preserved in Europe. 90% of the skeleton's bones were intact, with damage to the skull and tusks.

See also

References

External links

  • http://www.rmsc.org/MuseumAndScienceCenter/exhibits/GlaciersAndGiants/
  • http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/larson/mammut.html
  • http://www.calvin.edu/academic/geology/mastodon/calvin_c.htm
  • http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/expeditions/treasure_fossil/Treasures/Warren_Mastodon/warren.html?acts
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/3004.shtml
  • Greek Mastodon find 'spectacular' (BBC)
  • http://www.priweb.org/mastodon/mastodon_home.html
  • http://www.mostateparks.com/mastodon.htm
  • http://www.slfp.com/Mastodon.htm
  • http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/exhibits
  • worlds longest tuska

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