Source by: Only Dinosaurs
What came first, mammoths or elephants? Many people have always asked themselves this question, and today, they can finally find out the answer. Scientists discovered that the earliest mammoths originated from the tropical environments of Africa. This was alongside the earliest ancestors of elephants.
From fossils found in Africa, scientists proved that the large mammals migrated out of Africa and into Europe more than 3 million years ago. The mammoths went on to live in Europe and Asia until 750,000 years ago when some migrated to North and South America.
In this post, we compare the mammoths to the elephants and see how the two species differ despite belonging to the same family.
Mammoth vs Elephant: Tusks
Source by: Bloomberg.com
Mammoths had larger tusks than African or Asian elephants. In 2019, scientists were exploring the ocean floor around 10,000 feet deep and 185 miles off the Californian coast. During their research, they spotted something that looked like an elephant tusk. The two scientists only managed to take a small piece of the tusk but returned later to retrieve the entire tusk.
Upon further investigation, they discovered that the “elephant tusk” was the tusk of a Columbian mammoth. These mammals arrived in North America around one million years ago and evolved. They stood over 14 feet tall and weighed more than 20,000 pounds.
Between the Columbian mammoth and the mammoth, the former had the biggest mammoth tusks as long as 16 feet. The latter had long tusks measuring 10 to 13 feet.
Source by: Google
The African elephant is currently the largest land animal with tusks about 6 feet in length and weighs 50 pounds. When it comes to tusks of an Asian elephant, they are much smaller. In fact, they are barely an inch or two in length, but they can extend to as long as 2 to 3 meters.
Mammoth vs Elephant: Coat and Skin
Source by: Britannica
As aforementioned, the Columbian mammoth was the biggest compared to the woolly mammoths. Cave paintings found in Russia and perma-frost preserved carcasses provide great detail about the woolly mammoth’s body.
For example, scientists have been able to determine the length of the woolly mammoth’s thick coats. Studies show that the woolly mammoths had hairs up to 90 cm long with a dense underwool. This helped to ensure the woolly mammoths thrived in cold weather.
Source by: Google
The Columbian mammoth was a savanna inhabitant, unlike the woolly mammoth. Since it was a savanna inhabitant, its skin was no thicker than that of present-day African elephants. The skin measured 1.25 to 2.5 cm in thickness and had a layer of fat up to 10 cm thick under the skin. This helped to keep the animal warm in cold environments.
African elephants have thick skin – 2.5 cm thick in most places. They have wrinkles and folds on the skin that retain up to 10 times more water than flat skin. This helps to keep them cool. Unlike other mammals and the woolly mammoth with thick coat/fur, the elephants have sparse hairs dotted around their body.
Mammoth vs Elephant: Height
Source by: Dreamstime.com
The Columbian mammoth reached 4 meters tall at the shoulders. Research shows that it was larger than earlier mammoth species such as the Mammuthus trogontherii. It was also bigger than the woolly mammoth and the modern African elephant both of which reached 2. 7 to 3.4 meters tall.
The male Columbian mammoth was generally larger than the female. Like other mammoths, the Columbian mammoth had a high single domed head with a high shoulder hump. This shape resulted in the back vertebrae decreasing in length from the front to the rear.
The African bush elephant holds the record of the largest land mammal and the largest of the three modern elephant species. Adult African bush elephants can reach up to 13 feet in height and 24 feet in length while Asian male elephants can reach 2.8 m at the shoulder.
Mammoth vs Elephant: Taxonomic Relationship
Source by: NPR
African and Asian elephants and mammoths are close cousins that belong to the same taxonomic family, the Elephantidae. This group also belongs to a broader biological group that includes extinct beasts such as deinotheres and mastodons.
Between five and three million years ago, today’s elephants and mammoths diverged and formed three genera.
Loxodonta – African elephants
Mammuthus – mammoths
Elephas – Asian elephants
Unlike the African and Asian elephants which restricted their movement, mammoths traveled far in the world. For example, the mammoths traveled to the “New World” via the Bering land bridge.
This ancient bridge linked Alaska and modern-day Siberia more than 1.7 million years ago. The Columbian mammoth went on to occupy North America while the woolly mammoth arrived much later from Eurasia.
Today, scientists classify mammoths as follows:
Mammuthus columbi (Columbian mammoth)
Mammuthus primigenius (Woolly mammoth)
They also classify the African elephant family as Loxodonta and the Asian elephant famliy as Elephas maximus. So, while mammoths and elephants belong to the same family, they are of different species.
Mammoth vs Elephant: Existence
Source by: World Wildlife Fund
Mammoths were likely long-lived. In fact, scientists estimate that the lifespan of a Columbian mammoth was 80 years while that of a woolly mammoth was 60 years. Despite their long lifespans, mammoths are extinct today.
Proposed causes of extinction include environmental and climate change disease, and human predation. In Canada, mammoths became extinct by the end of the Pleistocene epoch about 10,000 years ago. However, small populations continued to live during the Holocene epoch between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.
Source by: Smithsonian Magazine
During the Ice Age, glaciers moved across Canada eroding much of the fossil record of large Ice Age animals including mammoths. Today, the record of mammoths is mostly made up of pieces of skeleton found in areas that were not impacted by glacial movement.
Both African and Asian elephants are alive today. About 415,000 African elephants are roaming the plains of Africa. However, due to poaching, there have been significant declines over the past six decades. As such, poaching is steering the African elephant species dangerously towards extinction.
The Asian elephant is also classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Its population is estimated to be 20,000 to 40,000.
There you have it, a comprehensive comparison of mammoth vs elephants. As you have read, mammoths were more massive than modern elephants in terms of height and weight. When it comes to the length of tusks, mammoths had bigger and longer tusks than modern elephants.
Sadly, mammoths were one of the extinct species which went extinct around 4,000 years ago, but today you can see the fossils or the animatronic mammoth models in museums around the world. To see elephants, visit your local zoo or travel to Asia or Africa and book a tour to see them in their natural habitats.