STL Science Center

STL Science Center

12 November 2015

Know Your Proboscids

Elephants, mammoths, and mastodons are all closely related. Considering that mammoths and mastodons died off so relatively recently that our very near (geologically of course) ancestors hunted and lived alongside the giant herbivores. There have been taste tests of frozen mammoths, but not mastodons. The reason for that is partly the relative abundance of frozen mammoths compared to frozen mastodons that have been discovered. In fact, living more often in close proximity to forests and away from open ground, large open rivers, and crossing frozen lakes less often than their mammoth cousins has most likely led to this far lower number of mastodon flash freezes and subsequent frozen mastodon dinners. Mastodons also likely stayed away from the more likely freeze areas because they possessed far less shaggy coats than their woolly cousins, causing them to live in warmer areas and it is hypothesized that mastodons died out partly because they froze to death as a species. This does not mean we do not have very well preserved mastodons; instead of freezing whole they seemed to have a propensity for falling into the La Brea Tar Pits. These tar pit skeletons and the other North American finds have led to a great understanding of the animals and increased their popularity and face in the popular sciences that we see on television and movies. Mammoths remain far more popular among the majority of kids, but we can chalk this up to Ray Romano's Ice Age character more in the modern era than anything else (in my opinion). Mastodons, though, are still well known and still popular because they are, like mammoths and elephants, charismatic megafauna. Someone in Fort Wayne, Indiana loved mastodons. The Indiana-Purdue campus at Fort Wayne (there are a number of the IUPU hybrid campuses throughout the state) mascot is a mastodon; ignore his curved tusks!

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