Mammoths belong to the order Proboscidea, which also include mastodons and elephants. Species in this order can be immense in size, and the larger species have massive column-like limbs, a long and flexible trunk, and well-developed tusks.
Mammoths lived during the Pleistocene (about 1.8 million to ~10,000 years ago), when the most recent ice ages took place. Mammoths were adapted to live in these colder climates and lived in open prairies and the tundra and taiga regions of the world.
Mammoths were herbivores, which means they only ate plants. What kind of plants mammoths ate depended on the species of mammoth and what habitat they lived in. Some mammoths only ate grasses, but other mammoths could also eat shrubs, leaves, and bark. The biggest predators of mammoths were humans.
Mammoths went extinct about 10,000 years ago.
Evidence from fossil sites suggests that mammoth behavior was similar to modern elephant behavior. Mammoths most likely lived in social groups that protected one another. Family groups would include females and juveniles. Juvenile males and young-adult males (aged 12-30) would leave the family group for 16 to 20 years and live by themselves or in groups with other males.
The life span of a mammoth would vary depending on the species and the environment in which the mammoth lived. A juvenile mammoth (a mammoth before it reached full maturity) could range from 10 to 19 years old. Mammoths reached adulthood at about 20 years of age and could live to be 60 to 80 years old.
Mammoths belong to the order Proboscidea, which also include mastodons and modern African and Asian elephants. Species in this order can be immense in size, and the larger species have massive column-like limbs, a long and flexible trunk, and well-developed tusks.
Mammoth teeth were made up of molars, and these molars are made of a series of vertical flat plates. Each half of the jaw contained 6 molars. The molar plates were made of ridges of compressed enamel which covered cementum. (Human teeth also have enamel covering cementum.) These strong molars looked like washboards, and did not wear easily. They were used to shear vegetation like scissors. Mammoth skulls were high and dome-like. The lower jaw was large with a well-defined chin. The nasal bones were shortened to make room for the long trunk, and the long curved tusks projected well beyond the nasal bones.
Mammoths were similar in shape and size to modern elephants, but were covered in long, coarse hair. The hair was black or reddish-brown in color and could be up to 50cm long. Some species of mammoths also had an undercoat of wooly hair about 2.5 cm thick.
The size of a mammoth depended on the species. From foot to shoulder, they could have ranged from 2.4m to 4.0m in height.
Mammoths lived during the Pleistocene (about 1.8 million to ~10,000 years ago), when the most recent ice ages took place. During the Pleistocene, the Earth went through a cooling period and glaciers covered large areas of land. There would also be short warming periods when glaciers retreated. Most ice ages had cycles of long cold periods and short warming periods. Mammoths were adapted to live in these colder climates and lived in open prairies and the tundra and taiga regions of the world.
About 10,000 years ago mammoths went extinct. Mammoths were specialized to live in cold climates and open woodland and grassland habitats. Approximately 10,000 years ago the globe started to warm up and the last ice age ended. Open woodlands and grasslands changed to forests, and the mammoth’s habitats and food supply changed. It is thought that they were not able to adapt to the change in climate and habitat and thus became extinct.
However, many scientists think that the climate shift was not enough to cause the extinction of mammoths. Ice ages naturally had cycles of long cold periods and short warming periods, and the mammoths survived previous warming periods of the Pleistocene (about 1.8 million to ~10,000 years ago). One difference during the warming period at the end of the Pleistocene was the presence of humans. 10,000 years ago, humans were found in most areas of the globe and hunted mammoths. It is thought that increased hunting pressure from humans combined with the change in climate caused the extinction of mammoths. However, scientists are still debating and researching this theory.
The first mammoths appeared in Africa during the early Pleistocene, about 2 million years ago. Soon after (about 1.8 to 1.5 million years ago) they spread to Europe, Asia and North America. It is thought that mammoths crossed the Bering Strait to reach North America.
They had a very wide geographic range and their fossils are found on every continent except Australia and South America. Their range was much wider than their close cousins, African elephants (Loxodonta) and Asian elephants (Elephas).
Mammoths were herbivores, which means they only ate plants. What kind of plants mammoths ate depended on the species of mammoth and what habitat they lived in. Some mammoths only ate grasses but other mammoths could also eat shrubs, leaves, and bark. Mammoths used their specialized teeth to grind and eat their food. Their tusks could have been used to eat food by scraping ice and snow off vegetation.
Similar to their elephant cousins, it is thought that Mammoths spent most of their time eating. A 6-ton woolly mammoth would need to eat about 90kg of food a day!
Mammoths had few predators because of their large size and protective social groups. It is likely that large carnivores of the time (like Smilodon) carried off very young or very old members of a mammoth herd.
The biggest predators of mammoths were humans. Humans lived in direct contact with mammoths about 12,000 years ago. From excavation of the areas where these human hunters lived (called Clovis sites) and from cave paintings, scientists know that humans hunted and killed mammoths.
Evolution and Systematics
Systematics and Taxonomy
Mammoths belong to the Elephantidae family, which also include Loxodonta (African elephants) and Elephas (Asian elephants). There are about 18 different species of mammoths.
It is important to note that mammoths are not modern elephants ancestors. Mammoths and modern elephants evolved from a common ancestor and lived on the earth together for about 4 million years.