Southern Mammoth Fossils
EARLY PLEISTOCENE PERIOD: 1.8 million years ago
Emerging 55 million years ago, the group of mammals called Proboscideans are identified by the presence of tusks and a trunk and include mammoths, mastodons and elephants. The oldest mammoth remains have placed the beginnings of the beasts in Africa but eventually, they migrated to Europe and Asia. Around 1.7 million years ago, Mammuthus meridonalis began reaching North America and later evolved into the Columbian mammoth, otherwise known as the American mammoth.
One of the first species of mammoth was the Southern Mammoth, or Mammuthus meridonalis. This extinct giant resembled an Asian elephant but with larger tusks. It was a huge proboscidean, THE LARGEST ELEPHANT THAT EVER LIVED ON THE PLANET. Mammuthus meridonalis was also the FIRST mammoth that ever lived emerging in the Early Pleistocene Period 1.8 million years ago during a time between glacial periods in Europe. This mammoth lived in warm, tropical forests. As the final Ice Age came to be and temperatures dropped, vegetation that supported this species died out and this reduction in food source along with the colder climate led to the extinction of this species and heartier species later emerged like the smaller Woolly Mammoth that could survive the harsh climate. Some believe that Mammuthus meridonalis is an ancestor of the Woolly Mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius.
The teeth of Mammuthus meridonalis are made up of lesser and more robust plates than the teeth of Woolly Mammoths. This was so the Southern Mammoth could chew up the coarser forest vegetation. Over time, the cheek teeth of Woolly mammoths evolved into a design of more numerous and tightly arranged enamel plates with less thickness. The tusks of the Woolly mammoth developed a more dramatic curvature and their overall body size decreased. These changes were advantageous in surviving the increasingly cold conditions of the last Ice Age. Such teeth modifications enabled the Woolly mammoths to chew tougher tundra vegetation. The reduction of body size accompanied by the reduction of the ears and trunk along with the development of a thicker pelt enabled the mammoths to survive in the harshness of a frozen world.
A full grown Mammuthus meridonalis stood around 15 feet high at the shoulder (for comparison, a Woolly Mammoth stood 10 - 12 feet high).
A mammoths have four teeth in their skulls, two uppers (one on each side) and two lowers. Over the course of the life of the animal, six sets of teeth will grow, a worn set being pushed forward and out to make room for a new and unworn set. This characteristic is still true of modern elephants. A baby mammoth at age 6 will have already had three sets of teeth. By 13 years of age, the fourth set emerges followed by a fifth set at age 27 years. The final set of teeth come in around 43 years of age and as it wears away, the animal eventually starves to death and dies on average between 60 and 80 years of age. Interestingly, the animal's life is limited by the fact that after the sixth set, no new teeth grow in to replace the final worn down set and the animal is no longer able to chew its food. Mammoth teeth can also tell us the age and species of the creature. Scientists can approximate age by comparing the length and width of the molars to corresponding age and tooth size charts from modern elephants. The species is determined by the number of ridges found in the first four inches of the flat chewing surface.
Mammoth remains have been found in northern regions of North America, Eurasia and Europe.
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