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Mammoth History

The Ears
Mammoths had small ears, about 15 inches long and 10 inches wide—much smaller than the ears of a modern African elephant. Small ears reduced heat loss.

The skin of a mammoth was an inch thick over most of its body. Around the eyes and mouth it was only half an inch thick. A thick layer of fat under the skin helped to insulate the body from the cold.

What's in a Trunk?
The trunk functioned as nose, hand, and straw to the mammoth. Combining the upper lip andtrunks nose, the trunk was both sensitive and muscular. A mammoth used its trunk to lift, entwine, grasp, and drink, and to make sounds, communicate by touch, and distinguish scents. Like modern elephants, mammoths had better senses of smell than of eyesight. There were no bones within the trunk, only tissue, cartilage at the tip to divide the nostrils, and thousands of muscles.

The modern Asian elephant has a single finger at the top side of the trunks' tip, which grasps and holds an object so the trunk can twist around it.

The African elephant has two fingers, at top and bottom. They act like a finger and thumb to grasp an object or a bundle of grass.

The mammoth had a single finger at the top and a wide flap at the bottom. Its ability to grasp short grasses or small items may have been enhanced by this arrangement.

Mammoth Steps
Each foot had five toes. Though it seems unlikely for such a huge animal, the mammoth walkedA little woolly foot slightly tiptoed. Behind the foot bones was a large pad of fatty, fibrous tissue. These springy pads cushioned each step and gave the animal agility and balance. Thick, rough skin covered the pads and helped the animal from slipping on ice and snow.

When a mammoth stepped upon the snow, each step had to support a portion of its total weight, sometimes nearly 16,000 pounds. It is no surprise that the footprint was large—very large, about two feet across. The large area dispersed its weight so that the mammoth could walk upon the snow rather than breaking through at every step.

How fast could a mammoth walk? A modern elephant can walk 30 miles a day at four miles an hour, or a shorter distance at nearly 15 miles an hour. A mammoth probably could do about the same.

Samples of mammoth hairMammoths had two protective layers of hair. The inner layer of short hair served as an insulating blanket to protect the mammoth in the winter and was shed yearly. The coarse outer layer of guard hairs protected the animal year round and grew as long as two feet.

Mammoth hair was probably originally black to dark brown. Over the thousands of years that mammoth remains have been frozen, the color has faded.

The Lower Jaw

The lower jaw of the mammoth was short and deep. Its teeth developed in the rear of the jaw and moved forward to replace worn-down teeth in the front. A worn tooth was expelled as the next tooth moved forward to replace it. Only six sets of teeth were produced during a mature mammoth's lifetime. Each set had four teeth, two in the upper jaw, and two in the lower. Once the last tooth was worn away, the mammoth would starve to death.

Mammoth Teeth
A mammoth toothMammoth teeth were huge! A single tooth of a mature mammoth was as big as a shoe box and weighed about ten pounds. Mammoth teeth were also specially adapted to tear, grind, and chew up grasses and other plants—a few hundred pounds of plants a day! Chewing silica-rich vegetation slowly wore down the teeth, each layer at a slightly different rate. This caused ridges in each tooth, which helped crush the food. The three layers were made of enamel, dentin, and cementum.

Aged By Their Teeth
We humans have two sets of teeth during our lifetime, baby teeth and permanent teeth. Mammoths had six sets, and each set had four teeth, two in the top jaw and two in the bottom jaw.

As in modern elephants, as one set of mammoth teeth was wearing out, the next set was slowly forming and moving forward into position to replace the old set. Each new set of four teeth was larger and had more plates than the set before. Scientists can determine the age of a mammoth by the age of its teeth, because the sets of teeth were replaced about the same time in all mammoths.

The tusks of a mammoth were simply oversized incisors, or upper front teeth, which had becomeA mammoth tusk specialized for particular uses. They continued to grow throughout the mammoth's life. Tusks could grow as long as nine feet on the male woolly mammoth and 16 feet on the male Columbian mammoth.

How Old?
A mammoth could live 80 years or more. Scientists an determine its age by its teeth and bones.

Today's elephants did not evolve from mammoths. But because mammoths and elephants were close relatives, scientists have determined that in some ways mammoths probably looked and acted like elephants. About modern elephants, we know that a female must be at least 12 years old to reproduce. A pregnancy lasts about 22 months, a newborn elephant weights about 270 pounds, and the calf will nurse for about two years. Scientists think that mammoths were much the same.

Social Structure
Mammoths, like their close relatives the elephants, probably had a complex social structure with a matriarch leading the group. The matriarch is the female elephant with the most experience, knowledge, and status. If hunting, disease, or climatic change kills the matriarch before others have gained knowledge and status, the family herd may be in jeopardy.

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