In the Beneski Museum of Natural History, the student guides were particularly excited about the College’s new mascot.
So excited, in fact, that Ian Petty ’19 threw a party in its honor, inviting students to gather there on a spring Friday to draw tributes to “Bebu,” the giant mammoth skeleton on permanent display in the building.
“When the mammoth became our mascot, a couple people said that should be the name,” Petty said of the moniker, an abbreviated version of “Beneski Building.” “Now I’m trying to make that happen. It’s not official.”
As students began to draw mammoths ranging from fierce to cuddly, Petty cautioned against another frequently mentioned name: “Woolly.” As he explained, the bones are of a Columbian mammoth, and Columbian mammoths were not particularly woolly.
Pressed for more details, Petty bowed out with a laugh. “Now I’ve gotten in the only knowledge I know and will defer to Matthew,” he said.
He gestured across the room to a fellow guide, C. Matthew Inabinett ’18, the resident mammoth expert—the person even museum educator Fred Venne consults on such matters. At this moment, Inabinett was drawing what looked to be a scientific rendering of a
Asked to assume his role as mammoth guide, Inabinett adjusted his tweed blazer and bow tie. The Beneski mammoth, Inabinett said, lived in Florida and died at 46, a big, dominant male in the prime of his life. Since mammoths, like elephants, were matriarchal, Bebu likely lived alone. He could have lived to 80—if he’d been lucky.
“Ours was not lucky. He died in a cypress swamp,” Inabinett said. “He went down to a swampy area and started to sink until his trunk was under, and then he couldn’t breathe.”
Mammoths had unwieldy tusks. Inabinett relayed one tragic case of two Columbian mammoths that locked tusks in a fight and died trying to separate, crushing a particularly unfortunate coyote when they fell.
Inabinett continued to offer mammoth facts (even though he’s actually more interested in dinosaurs) while the party continued around him: A modern male elephant is 3 feet shorter and half
the weight of Amherst’s mammoth. Like elephants, mammoths had 22-month gestation periods and were grazers, strolling quietly through the landscape. They also had padded feet.
“So they walked up on their toes,” Inabinett said. “They were capable of being quite stealthy for something that can weigh over six tons.”
To demonstrate, Mr. Mammoth stood on his toes in his wingtips.