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
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.
Each foot had five toes. Though it seems unlikely for such a huge animal, the
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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