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Mammoth Origins, Species, Heights & Weights, Teeth, and Tusk Information

Columbian MammothThe Columbian Mammoth, (Mammuthus columbi) was a descendent of Mammuthus meridionalis (Mammuthus meridionalis) the ancestral mammoth that entered North America via the Bering Land Bridge about one million years ago. The Columbian mammoth ranged from Alaska, and the Yukon, across the mid-western United States south into Mexico and Central America. Huge, standing almost 14 foot at the shoulder (420 cm), and weighing 8-10 tons, the Columbian mammoth could consume about 700 pounds of vegetation a day. The life span for a Columbian mammoth was 60 to 80 years. To date, 52 Columbian mammoths have been found at the Mammoth Site. Two species of mammoths, the Columbian and woolly, were trapped in the Hot Springs Mammoth Site pond.

Wooly MammothIdentified by its hairy coat and large curved tusks, the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was a descendent of the steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii). The woolly mammoth, living south of the ice sheets, ranged from northern Europe, across Siberia, and into North America. Smaller in comparison with the Columbian mammoth, the woolly stood 11 foot at the shoulder (330 cm), and weighed 6-8 tons. Scientists believe that huge glaciers, advancing from the north and east, forced the woolly mammoths to the western area of what is now the state of South Dakota.Three woolly mammoths have been discovered in the Hot Springs sinkhole.

Proboscidean Species

Mammoths, mastodons, and elephants emerged from a group of mammals with developed trunks and tusks. This group, called proboscideans, is traced back to 55 million years ago. Although related, mammoths, mastodons, and elephants are from different branches of this proboscidean ancestral tree. The first mammoths developed in Africa, and soon ranged into Europe and Siberia. The ancestral mammoth, M. meridionalis, reached North America about 1.7 million years ago. Over thousands of years, adapting to the North American environment, the ancestral mammoth evolved to become the Columbian mammoth (the American mammoth).

Proboscidean Species

Of the four proboscidean species pictured above, only the Columbian and the woolly mammoth
have been discovered at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site.
Mastodon (Mammut americanum )...Shoulder Height--8-10 feet, Weight 4-6 tons
Ancestral Mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis )...Shoulder Height--13-14 feet, Weight 8-10 tons
Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi )...Shoulder Height--12-14 feet, Weight 8-10 tons
Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius )...Shoulder Height--9 feet, Weight 7-9 ton

North American Mammoth Locations

Mammoth species included: M. meridionalis (the ancestral mammoth that entered the new world 1.7 million years ago), M. columbi (the Columbian mammoth), M. primigenius (the woolly mammoth) and M. exilis (the pygmy mammoth of the California Channel Islands).

North American Map

Major reported sites, not all inclusive.

Central Plains Map

Central Plains Mammoth Location Map

Mammoth Teeth (Molars)

Mammoth ToothImagine teeth as big as a shoe box.....and six sets of teeth over a lifetime!

Mammoth teeth are fascinating, revealing the animal's age and specie. With four functional shoe-box sized teeth in their mouth, two upper and two lower, a mammoth chewed approximately 500 pounds of vegetation daily. Over the years, these molars began to wear and break apart. Behind the worn teeth, in both the jaw and skull, new teeth formed. Slowly advancing, the new teeth gradually pushed out the old set. Similar to a forward moving conveyor belt, the new teeth moved into position. Like the elephants of today, mammoths grew six sets of teeth over a lifetime.

Wooly MammothBy the age of six, mammoths had acquired their first three sets of teeth. The fourth set of molars arrived by the age thirteen, the fifth set by age twenty-seven and the last set of molars came in when the mammoth was approximately forty-three years old. Eventually, when the mammoth's last set of teeth worn away, the mammoth died through reduced ability to feed. Average life expectancy of the average mammoth was 60 to 80 years.

Researchers determine the approximate age of the mammoth by measuring the length and width of its molars. Using molar measurement and age charts of modern day elephants, the scientists calculate the mammoth's age at death. The number of ridges that occur in the first four inches of the chewing surface of the tooth reveals the species of mammoth. These teeth have been identified as Columbian mammoth, (Mammuthus columbi). The new tooth is a series of enamel tubes, filled with dentin and bonded by cementum. The tubes, compressed into ovals as the tooth grew, formed the ridges on the tooth's occlusal (chewing) surface.

Mammoth Jaws & Chewing

The average Columbian mammoth consumed approximately 700 pounds of vegetation daily. Like an elephant, a mammoth would feed by wrapping its trunk around large clumps of grass, then, after tearing the grass loose, would place the food in its mouth. With sensitive tips of its trunk, a mammoth could also delicately pick buds, flowers, and shorter grasses.

Proboscidean Species


North American Map

Interior of tusk showing growth layers.

The tusks of all elephant-relatives, including mammoths, are enlarged incisor teeth. They began to form at birth and continue growing throughout life. A thin layer of enamel is present initially at the tip of the tusk, but soon wears away. Most of the tusk is composed of dentin, which is deposited in layers, usually in thicknesses of 6mm or 1/4 inch a year. The annual layers of tusks are somewhat like tree rings, but the tusks outdo trees in offering the finer scale of weekly and daily records. Changes in tusk growth rate generally reflect changes in the animal's nutritional condition. Relatively thick dentin increments imply rapid growth and favorable conditions (summer months), while thinner increments imply slower growth and more stressed conditions (winter months).

Wooly MammothTusks were used for a variety of activities; such as digging up vegetation, fighting, snow plowing for food, a deterrent to predators, and a sexual attraction during mating.The flattened areas of a tusk may indicate if the mammoth was "right tusked" or "left tusked", similar to us being right or left handed! Longest tusk found at the Mammoth Site is 10 1/2 feet (over 3 m) and is estimated to weigh approximately 148 lb. (almost 67 kg). It can be viewed at the southeast section of the sinkhole. The longest Columbian mammoth tusk was found in Texas and is 16 feet (almost 5 m) and weighs 208 lb. (almost 94 kg) and is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.