Mammoths are extinct elephant-like animals that adapted to cold weather. The coats of woolly mammoths were similar to those of muskoxen, consisting of long, dark hairs and fine under wool, with dark-grey skin and an insulating fat layer. Evidently, woolly mammoths, like muskoxen, molted in summer. Another feature was a high, peaked head resulting from the long spines of the neck vertebrae (possibly increased by fat deposits and thick hair). Mammoths had large ears (but much smaller than modern-day elephants), and a trunk shorter than those of the elephants living today.
Mammoths had large, elaborately curved tusks. Both the males and females had tusks, but the females’ tusks were smaller. The tusks began to form at birth and continued growing throughout life. Most of the tusk is dentin, which grew in thicknesses of 1/4 inch a year. The undersides of the tusks often show wear, suggesting that they were used in scraping snow and ice off vegetation or were worn against the ground during feeding.
The tusks were also used for protection, sexual attraction during mating, dominance, and as a deterrent to predators. The longest tusk ever found was almost 16 feet and weighs 208 pounds. By the age of six, mammoths had grown their first three sets of teeth.
The fourth set of molars arrived by the age thirteen, the fifth set by age twenty-seven and the last set of molars came in when the mammoth was roughly forty-three years old. Eventually, when the mammoth’s last set of teeth wore away, the mammoth died because it couldn’t eat (just like modern day elephants). Average life expectancy of the average mammoth was 60 to 80 years.
The average mammoth was a herbivore and consumed nearly 700 pounds of vegetation daily. Like an elephant, a mammoth would feed by wrapping its trunk around large clumps of grass, tear it loose, and then place the food in its mouth. With sensitive tips of its trunk, a mammoth could also delicately pick buds, flowers, and shorter grasses.
Mammoths lived from about 2 million years ago to 9,000 years ago, during the last ice age. This was millions of years after the dinosaurs went extinct. People existed during the time of the mammoths. Cave paintings of the woolly mammoth have been found in France and Spain. During the Pleistocene or Ice Age, the earth’s climate was colder and much of the earth was covered with ice. Some adaptations of the Woolly Mammoth to its cold, snowy environment were its long hair (kept its body and warm), its long tusks (used to get food through the snow), its small ears (reduced heat loss), and its large size (also reduced heat loss).
As with modern day elephants, woolly mammoths had one predator – man! They probably went extinct because of the warming climate and over hunting.
Fossils of mammoth groups give us insights into how they lived. One group consists of females and their young, and seems to be a herd all killed together. This group shows the same herd structure as modern elephants. Another site, which amassed skeletons overtime, preserves only adolescent males. Again this is similar to the social behaviors of modern elephants, where adolescent males that have recently left their mother’s herd tend to get into trouble and have no herd to help them out. These pieces of evidence suggest that we are right to think that they behaved in a similar way to their close modern cousins, the elephants.
Birth & Offspring
There are fewer than 50 known woolly mammoth carcasses, only about a half-dozen of which were complete. An estimated 50,000 tusks have been found, although there may have been a million mammoths living at one time. In 1997, an entire mummified Woolly Mammoth was found in Siberian ice! It was removed in October 1999 to a frigid, underground cave where it will be carefully studied. Scientists hope to be able to clone this remarkable specimen.
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.