Mammut americanum Mastodon Tusk
For September's Fossil of the Month, you'll have to look up to find our mind-boggling mastodon tusk that resides on a high shelf in our free gallery! Even from afar, this tusk from the prehistoric behemoth will make your jaw drop.
Mastodons, or Mammuts, lived in North and Central America from the Pliocene until their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene roughly 11,000 years ago. Mammut americanum are somewhat similar to modern elephants and are the latest and most well-known species of mastodon. It is believed a strong factor into the disappearance of the mastodon was human hunting as the population of man grew significantly. However, another large factor to the decline of many Pleistocene megafauna was a great climate change as the end of the Ice Age resulted in the last major glaciation, negatively affecting the lifestyles of these animals.
Mammut americanum ranged from Alaska all the way down south to Honduras, browsing and grazing among herds in spruce woodlands. It was once believed to resemble woolly mammoths, however, its long tail, lack of evidence of hair, and semiaquatic lifestyle indicate this mammal generally lived in warmer climates. Mastodons had flatter and longer heads, shorter legs, smaller ears and more muscular bodies than mammoths. They stood at an average of 8 feet at the shoulders, where mammoths could reach up to 12 feet tall. Like elephants, the size and build of mastodons varied between genders. Females were smaller than males with lower and longer skulls. Males were much larger with tusks that curved more. Mastodons had unique teeth with a raised point on the crowns that better suited their diet of branches, shrubs and leaves.
Mastodon tusks generally grew parallel and curved less than a mammoth. They were long with an upward curve, males exhibiting a stronger curve than females. Tusks were known to grow up to 16 feet long with one slightly shorter than the other. Evidence shows that males would use their tusks in annual fights over mating rights as the heavy blows would damage the dentin and new forming ivory on the underside of the tusks.
Our M. americanum tusk measures at roughly 43 inches long (or just under 4 feet). When you come to see it at our gallery, try to imagine just how big this gigantic mammal was! Do you think our tusk is from a female mastodon or a male?
Found in 1908s in Withlachoochee River, near Inverness, Florida
(Jaws were present at discovery and are in another collection)
(Reproduction image credit: britannica.com)