While teams of scientists around the world are reportedly racing to bring back the extinct woolly mammoth, members of the College community know that one particular mammoth was actually resurrected on April 3.
Amherst’s first official mascot, that is.
But what is known about the giant mammal, beyond the fact that Amherst’s Beneski Museum of Natural History has a Columbian mammoth skeleton in its collection?
Here are some basic and fun facts about the animal, courtesy of the Beneski’s resident experts and other sources:
- Scientific name: Mammuthus primigenius; other common names include tundra mammoth and earth stag. The scientific name of the Columbian mammoth on display in the Beneski is Mammuthus columbi.
- Height: As tall as about 11 feet, 6 inches at the shoulder; that height is comparable to that of a modern Asian elephant. Columbian mammoths that became isolated on California’s Channel Islands evolved into a dwarf species, averaging less than 6 feet at the shoulder, according to the book Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age. On the other end of the spectrum, the Beneski’s mammoth was on the large side; it stood 13 feet at the shoulder.
- Weight: Around six to eight tons; the mammoth in the Beneski tipped the scales at more than 10.
- Range: Fossils have been discovered on the continents of Asia, Europe, North America and Africa.
- Diet: Nearly 500 pounds of plants, grasses, aquatic shrubs and trees daily; they used the tips of their trunks to pick and eat tiny buds, flowers and shorter grasses. A large mammoth could eat more than 600 pounds of food a day and spend about 16 hours feeding daily. An infant mammoth would eat its mother’s dung, which helped it develop the gut flora that aids in the digestion of plant material.
- Tusks: These elongated incisors normally grew to about 8 feet in length and growth rates could exceed 5 inches per year, although some species could grow tusks longer than 16 feet. The age of a mammoth can be determined by counting the annual rings of dentine growth.
- Lifespan: 60 to 80 years. Mammoths grew six sets of teeth over a lifetime and typically died when their last set lost the ability to chew vegetation.
- Reproduction: Not entirely known. Based on observations of today’s elephants, modern scientists have hypothesized that female mammoths were sexually mature when they were about 15 years old. A normal gestation period was likely nearly two years and produced a single calf.
- Social structure: Probably the same as that of African and Asian elephants, with females living in herds headed by a matriarch and bulls living alone or forming loose groups once they reached sexual maturity.
- Predators: Large ice age animals—such as saber-toothed cats and other carnivores—as well as humans, who hunted the animals for their meat, bones and skin. Whether or not human hunting led to the extinction of mammoths is a subject of debate in the scientific community.
- Notable connection to American history: Thomas Jefferson—once nicknamed “Mr. Mammoth”—had a subspecies named after him. Mammuthus columbi ssp. Jeffersonii was a nod to the late president’s paleontological interests, as described in the book The First Discovery of a Rhynchosaur from the Upper Moenkopi Formation (Middle Triassic) of Northern Arizona.
- Significant fossil discovery: The remains of two 13-foot, 10,000-pound Columbian mammoths with their tusks entangled were found in 1962 in the Nebraska Badlands. In a 2008 PBS program titled Mammoth Mysteries, experts hypothesized that the two equally matched animals likely entwined their tusks in battle and, unable to untangle themselves, died from starvation.
- Back-scratching method: On rocks, of course. One example is Mammoth Rubbing Rock in Jenner, Calif. With atypically smooth, shiny patches on blueshist monoliths rocks, the spot was the perfect height for a Columbian mammoth to relieve a shoulder itch, according to the California State Parks organization.
- State symbol: The Columbian mammoth is the official fossil of Nebraska, South Carolina and Washington.
- Contribution to the ecosystems: Mammoths dispersed the seeds of several North American trees, including the Osage orange, Kentucky coffeetree and honey locust, noted Paul Martin in his Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America.