The Robinson Library >> Science >> Geology >> Paleontogy

one of an extinct group of primitive elephants

artist rendering of a North American Mastodon

The name mastodon originated from the fact that the grinding teeth of these animals had large nipple-shaped projections on the cross ridges. The cross ridges were broader and less numerous than those on the teeth of the true elephants.

mastodon molar

The first mastodons lived in Egypt early in the Cenozoic Era. They had short tusks in both the upper and lower jaw and were considerably smaller than modern elephants, the majority being less than four feet in height. During the middle and latter part of the Cenozoic they spread over the northern continents, increasing in size and variety. Many of these mastodons had extremely long jaws, particularly the lower jaw, which was sometimes six feet long and was a useful tool for digging roots. The lower tusks of one group of Asiatic mastodons were so broad and flat that the animals are called shovel-tuskers.

The latter part of the history of the mastodons is concerned with the shortening of the lower jaw, the reduction of the lower tusks, and the enlargement of the upper tusks. These tendencies finally culminated in the American mastodon (pictured here), which attained a height of about 10 feet at the shoulders. Its proportions did not differ greatly from those of the modern Indian elephant, except that the mastodon was somewhat stouter and had shorter legs and broader feet. The average length of its tusks was about eight feet.

American mastodons were wide-spread across all of North America, from Alaska to central Mexico. The long shaggy hair associated with the bones of some of the best preserved specimens indicates that these animals were well adapted to a cold, glacial climate. Pieces of branches and leaves found in the stomach region show that the mastodons fed on forest vegetation. Perfect preservation of the remains and the occasional association of flint implements with the bones are evidences that the mastodons did not become extinct in North America until about 13,000 years ago and were contemporaneous with early man on the continent.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Proboscidea
family Mammutidae
genus & species
Mammut americanum North American mastodon
Mammut angustidens European mastodon

The American Peoples Encyclopedia Chicago: Spencer Press, Inc., 1958


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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Geology >> Paleontology

This page was last updated on 06/26/2017.