Columbian Mammoth & Channel Island Mammoth
December 2008

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TAXONOMY *
*How Do We Know This? Like living animals, fossil remains of once-living animals are
classified and grouped according to their relationships to each other and to their ancestors.
Many Pleistocene fossils yield DNA which helps scientists determine these animals'
similarity to living animals.



(Agenbroad 2003) (Agenbroad and Mead 1996)(Cohen 2002) (Harrington 1984) (Krause et al 2006) (Lister 1996) (Lister 2007) (Lister and Sher 2001) (McDaniel 2006) (McDaniel and.Jefferson 2003) (Miller et al 2008)(Osborne 1942) (Roth 1984, 1996) (Shaw & Quinn 1986) (Shoshani 1998, 2005) (Todd & Roth 1996)


Describer (Date):
Brookes 1828 for Mammuthus
                                  Falconer 1857 for Mammuthus columbi
                                  Stock and Furlong 1928 for Mammuthus exilis

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
        Class: Mammalia
             Order: Proboscidea (mammoths, mastodonts, shovel-tuskers, modern elephants)
                  Family: Elephantidae (Asian and African elephants, mammoths)
                           Genus: Mammuthus                                
                                  Species:
Mammuthus meridionalis (Southern Mammoth)                          
                                  Species: Mammuthus trogontherii (Steppe Mammoth)
                                  Species: Mammuthus primigenius (Woolly Mammoth)
                                  Species: Mammuthus columbi (Columbian Mammoth) 
                                  Species: Mammuthus exilis (Channel Island Mammoth)   


Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

 

Phylogeny

PREHISTORIC DISTRIBUTION & HABITAT *
*How Do We Know This? Scientists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate tectonic movements,
and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil distribution patterns and ancient habitats.

(Agenbroad 1998) (Agenbroad & Mead 1996) (Dudley 1996) (Johnson 1972) (Koch et al 1995) (Todd & Roth 1996)

Distribution Habitat

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS*
*How Do We Know This? Careful study of fossil bone or tooth anatomy yields much
exact information about placement and strength of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves,
and blood vessels. In rare cases, skin and hair impressions or actual skin or hair remains.
Body weight is more difficult to gauge because fat leaves no impression on the skeleton.


(Averianov 1996) (Dudley 1999) (Gillette & Madsen 1993) (Haynes 1991) (Krause et al 2006) (Laws 1966) (Lister 1996) (Maglio 1973) (Roth 1984, 1996) (Tassy & Shoshani 1996) (Fox et al 2003)


Estimated Body Weight: (Dudley 1999)
          M. columbi : 5,000-10,000 kg (5.5 -11 tons)
          M. exilis: 200-500 kg (0.2 - 0.6 tons)
Body Length: (Tassy and Shoshani 1996)
          M. columbi : 4- 4.5 m (13-14.7 ft)
          M. exilis: 160-200 cm (5.2-6.6 ft)
Tail Length: (Gillette & Madsen 1993)
          M. columbi: 1000 mm (39.8 in), intermediate between tails of wooly mammoths & modern elephants
Shoulder Height: (Roth 1996)
          M. columbi: 3.7- 4.3 m (12-14 ft)
          M. exilis :120-180 cm (3.9-5.9ft)


General Description

Teeth Pelage Sexual Dimorphism Other Physical Characteristics

BEHAVIOR & ECOLOGY*
*How Do We Know This? Since direct observation of a fossil animal's behavior isn't
possible, paleontologists use comparison and contrast with living animals for guidance.
Tracks can sometimes reveal further clues.

(Bongino 2007) (Fox et al 1992) (Hoppe 2004) (Johnson 1978) (Martin 2005) (Riney 2002) (Schmidt 1992) (Shoshani 1998)


Social Life
  • Assumed to be broadly similar to living elephants since mammoths, like living elephants, have a musth gland (Shoshani 1998)
    • Used for establishing dominance hierarchy in males (Schmidt 1992)
  • At a fossil site in Waco, Texas where many individuals became trapped in a hypothesized flash flood, evidence of herding behavior noted (Fox et al 1992) (Bongino 2007)
    • Adults assumed defensive position around young
    • Two juveniles died, held in the tusks of the adults (as if they were being lifted to safety above the water) 
  • At the Mammoth Site in South Dakota, most trapped individuals are young males
    • Suggests herding behavior like elephants today where young males lack group protection
  • Herd structure suggested for individuals that have similar carbon isotope values in their bones and are buried in same localities
    • Assumption made that members of herd traveled ate same foods, drank same waters, ingested same minerals (Hoppe 2004)
  • Not all individuals buried together represent a herd (Hoppe 2004)
    • Bones may be from animals that have accumulated over time, not from ones that lived together
    • Individuals buried at different times will have different carbon isotopes
                 
Interspecies Interaction
  • No predators preyed on mammoth adults, but young would have been vulnerable to attack by saber toothed cats (Smilodon and Homotherium), the American Lion (Panthera atrox), and the Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus).
  • Like the modern elephants, Columbian Mammoths would have been a keystone species with a profound effect on its ecosystem
    • Mammoths enhanced habitats for other species by maintaining trails, keeping water ways accessible, maintaining open grassy areas.
    • A fossil discovery near Oceanside, California had multiple mammoth sized tracks, plus mammoth and many other species' bones (fox, coyote, tapir, bison, pond turtle, mastodon) on the margins of an oxbow lake (Riney 2006)
  • Hunted by humans
    • Some 20 known North American sites associated with Clovis people's stone points (Martin 2005)
  • Mammoth's feeding habits may explain many anti-herbivory compounds in modern native plant communities (Dudley 1999)
                 
Other behavior 
  • Columbian mammoths were good swimmers; they crossed open water to reach the Pleistocene Channel Island.
    • Even at lowest sea levels, no land connection existed with the mainland. They had to swim to reach the islands. (Johnson 1978)



DIET & FEEDING*
*How Do We Know This? Clues to fossil mammals' diets come from not only teeth,
but also skull shape, from fossil dung and gut contents, from lab analysis of isotopes
of elements in bone and teeth, and by looking at diets of modern animals.


(Agenbroad & Mead 1996) (Coltrain et al 2004) (Dudley 1999)(Fox et al 1992) (Hoppe 2004) (Koch et al 1988)


  • Opportunistic feeders like elephants, mammoths varied their food intake regionally and seasonally. In general, a mixed grazing and browsing diet (Koch et al 1988)
  • Mammoth dung deposits in two caves on Colorado Plateau contain pollen and plant fragments from mammoths' food (Agenbroad & Mead 1996).
    • Water sedges, pondweed, elderberry, snowberry, wild rose, raspberries, currants, spruce, sagebrush, water birch, oak, juniper, grasses, and prickly pear cactus
  • Carbon isotopes in skeleton of 20,000 year-old mammoths also give dietary clues to the types of plants consumed
    • At Rancho La Brea asphalt pits in southern California, no evidence of eating C-4 plants (warm-temperature grasses and other drought-resistant vegetation) (Coltrain et al 2004).
    • At a mammoth site in Waco, Texas, C-4 plants were a main component of the diet (Hoppe 2004)
    • In Florida mammoths ate mostly C-4 plants between 23,000 and 13,000 years ago (Koch et al 1998)
  • Mammoth's feeding habits may explain modern native plants' arsenal of toxic compounds (Dudley 1999)


REPRODUCTION & DEVELOPMENT *
*How do We Know This? Isotope studies of elements present fossil bones and tusks
in microscopic quantities give information about timing of reproductive stress,
and timing of nursing. Clues to stages of development come from tooth
replacement patterns and closure of sutures in skull and limb bones.


(Fisher 1996)(Kerr 2008) (Kurtén & Anderson 1980) (Martin 2005)
(Rountrey 2006)

Life Stages
  •   Age at weaning, estimated about 5-6 years for one Woolly Mammoth calf (Rountrey 2006)
    • Elephant tusks grow continually and absorb carbon and nitrogen isotopes from food.
    • Milk is rich in one heavy isotope of nitrogen and low in a heavy carbon isotope when compared with plant food.
      • Scientists can thus determine the approximate time when dietary switch occurs
    • The long nursing period may reflect the stress of harsh arctic conditions. Columbian mammoths may have nursed for less time.
    • Similar to that of African elephant in high-stress environment
  • Onset of a male's prime reproductive period may be recorded as a decline in the growth rate of a tusk around 10-13 years (Fisher 1996)
    • Living elephants are similar
    • This study done with mastodont tusk; mammoths would probably be similar
  • Tusk growth rates of adult females may record periods of pregnancy and nursing. (Fisher 1996)
Mortality and Extinction
  • Juvenile M. columbi preyed upon by the sabertooth cat, Homotherium (Kurtén & Anderson 1980)
    • 441 milk teeth of mammoth calves found in Freisenhahn Cave, Texas along with saber tooth cat remains
  • Starvation, accidents, and human hunters the main causes of death of adult mammoths (Martin 2005)
    • Old age individuals (between 55 and 70 years) would starve when their last set of teeth were worn down
    • Some 20 archaeological sites in North America have Clovis points associated with M. columbi bones.
  • Human hunters and climate change are causes most often suggested for the extinction of most of the mammoths around 13,000 years ago. (Martin 2005)
  • Recent studies say a comet's impact caused extinction of M. columbi and other large Ice Ages animals; this idea has now been challenged. (Kerr 2008)


DISEASES AND PATHOLOGY*
*How do We Know This? Abnormalities in fossils bones may show
evidence of arthritis, cancer, nutritional stress, fractures and more.

(Gillette & Madsen 1993)
(Krzeminska 2008)(Leshchinskiy 2003)
  • Pathologies on mammoth bones, especially vertebrae and limb bones are common.
  • One mammoth studied was estimated to be nearly 60 years in age, with arthritic changes in many bones of his body.(Gillette & Madsen 1993)
    • Severe arthritis of most vertebrae
    • Bone loss of many rib facets
    • Bony growths restricting front limb movement
  • A woolly mammoth from western Siberia showed degenerative changes in much of its skeleton (Leshchinskiy 2003).
  • Woolly mammoth bones from Poland have several pathologies (Krzeminska 2008)
    • Healed fractures
    • Malformations of vertebrae, wrist bones, teeth
    • Furrows on the cement surface of teeth
    • Depressions in bone from abscesses

Important Web Resources (and where to view mammoth fossils in museums):


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