4 Key Differences Between Mammoths And Mastodons

Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth

Mammoths and mastodons are two species of elephants that lived during the Pleistocene epoch. They are extinct now, but many people have heard of them. These huge animals were very similar in appearance and characteristics. They lived in different parts of the world and died out at different times. Although they’re extinct, we learned a lot about them by studying their bones. Their sheer size has always caught human imagination and there have been numerous speculations about these animals and their behaviours. Although both of them have a similar appearance which gives rise to confusion, they are actually quite distinct animals. Read on to find out more about these fascinating animals the key differences between mammoths and mastodons,


Differences Between Mammoths And Mastodons

1. Physical Characteristics of Mammoths and Mastodons

Mastodon is an informal generic name applied to a genus of elephant like species that lived long ago. Many species are classified under that name all of whom are now extinct. Earlier when their bones were found in North America people misidentified them as mammoths, but later studies showed that they were in fact an entirely different species. The mastodon had a flat head. The neck region was not very distinguished and it one of the most basic features that sets apart the mammoth and the mastodon. Their tusks were long and curved which resembled that of today’s elephants. In today’s depictions mastodons are shown hairy like mammoths but it is only a speculation since there is no archaeological evidence found for this.

Just what the name is synonymous for, the mammoths were huge huge beasts! Reaching heights of 4m in the front. They were closely related to elephants, and both share many physical and behavioural characteristics. Since most of the mammoth species lived in the cold Siberian region in the history that is relevant to humans, they had adapted to the cold weather. They accumulated huge fat stores in their bodies to survive temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius. The woolly mammoth was also evolved this way only. Now, the main feature that one notices i.e., their tusks were quite long. But unlike mastodons, their tusks far more curvy, sometimes even intersecting with each other in front of their trunks.

2. Diet

Mammoths were herbivores and ate grass and shrubs and trees. This has been discovered from examining the teeth structure and faeces. Their teeth are similar to those of elephants, and it is logical to assume that the followed a similar diet. Nevertheless, the frozen faeces found preserved in cold regions clearly point to what they ate.

Now one may think that if they lived in so cold regions where there is no such vegetation, how did they survive? The answer is that they adapted to survive on forbs and not grass, which dominated the tundra region in that geological period. This also explains to a extent when the temperatures increased and this forbs vegetation declined so did the megafauna of that age.

Mastodons are known to have lived by browsing as opposed to grazing. Meaning they ate tree leaves and wooden twigs and shrubs. Although some fossil studies that some mastodons may have also grazed on grass as part of their diets. But the consensus is that they did browse mainly but on diverse species depending on the region which they inhabited.

About twenty-seven million years ago the family of mastodons separated from the Elephantidae to which mammoths and present-day elephants belong. The scientific name of the genus is Mammut. When the fossils were first discovered in North America by Europeans they were called ‘incognitum’ and later thought to be mammoth fossils that had somehow reached so far north. It was only later with more discoveries and extensive study of skeleton’s that people realized it was a totally different animal.

Mammoths also have a similar evolutionary history except that most of it took place in Africa and Eurasia. Even during their long period of existence, mammoths underwent several adaptions depending on the region which they inhabited. For example woolly mammoths which inhabited the cool Siberia and steppes grasslands.

3. Habitat and Distribution

Mammoths were herbivore grazers found in what is today’s Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. Their habitat was the mammoth steppe, a periglacial landscape with rich herb and grass vegetation. Mammoths outlived mastodons by a huge margin. Mammoths have been recorded to be alive even 2000 years after the pyramids have been built, in remote islands in the colder latitudes.
The mastodons are thought to have inhabited North America primarily with their distribution depending on the age. The archaeological evidence suggests that they reached as far south as Honduras and central Mexico at the time of their maximum expanse. They mainly lived in forests they browsed vegetation. The difference in specialized plant diet is thought be the main reason why mastodons did not travel further south towards south America.

4. Extinction

Early humans most likely hunted mammoths and mastodons. These animals were slow runners and had thick skin; they were ideal prey. They also had large amounts of protein and fat in their bodies, which made them difficult to digest. As a result, many early humans probably found it easier to hunt mammoths and eat their meat than hunt smaller animals. Over time, this human bias caused the number of large mammals to decrease dramatically. We’ve since lost many species due to human hunters targeting only the biggest members of each species.

Another reason for the decline in population is climate change. Plant DNA shows significant changes during this time, suggesting that vegetation changed during that time and mastodons and mammoths were unable to adapt to the quickly changing environment. The mammoths have outlived mastodons by about 7000 years. Mastodons almost disappeared when the human population started to rise in their habitat. Mammoths on the other hand, had an advantage that they lived in extremely cold regions. And it is in these regions that they lived the longest as the cold temperatures prevented humans from venturing into these lands. The last known species i.e., woolly mammoths are the best examples. However, as humans learnt to survive the harsh climate we find total extinction of mammoths from the continental region.

These are the key differences between differences between mammoths and mastodons.

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