Sunday, January 25, 2009
Mention the Mammoth to anyone on the street, and chances are, the first thing to pop into their heads is the Woolly Mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius . The Woolly Mammoth lived around 135,000 to 11,000 years ago, during the time periods known as the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs. The living conditions of this time period can be summed up in one word: cold.
The Woolly Mammoth’s range during their heyday was pretty much the entire northern hemisphere; preserved specimens have been found in North America, Eurasia and especially Siberia. They were pretty much the same size as their cousins, the modern African elephant: around 10-11 feet tall, 6-8 tons. They had dramatically huge tusks, up to 16 feet in length. Why exactly these tusks were so big is unclear, but it has been suggested that mammoths used them as shovels to dig through the snow in their never-ending quest for food. As their name implies, they had a thick, woolly coat of fur to fight off the cold, as well as skin glands which secreted fat into the hair, further insulating the animal. Mammoth lived in wide open tundra, feeding primarily on grass and when necessary, tree bark. Like elephants, females band together, forming sisterhoods led by a matriarch. Bachelor males lived a solitary lifestyle, only meeting with herds for mating.
The Woolly Mammoth most likely went extinct with the recession of the ice age 11,000 years ago. Mammoth range dropped dramatically (90% habitat loss in 30,000 years) with the retreat of the glaciers. Human hunting also added too much pressure, and Mammuthus primigenius passed from this Earth and into history.
Much of what we know about the mammoth comes from well preserved bodies. These bodies are frozen, not fossilized, thus allowing the preservation of skin, organs and even hair. In addition, as modern Homo sapiens existed by this time, cave paintings have given scientists further information about these animals.