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It’s early spring 13,000 years ago in what is today Alberta, Canada and a herd of Woolly Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) makes their way along the bank of the St. Mary river. The snow is beginning to melt and the long fur coats that kept the family insulated during the winter are now being shed. As the family walks, two juveniles around two years old, weave in and out of the adults as they play while the adults simply ignore their antics. In the back, the youngest of a pair of brothers pushes the older with his tusks in a playful gesture that is sure to induce a joust. Meanwhile, a newborn runs to catch up to her mother as the family trods along.
Mammuthus primigenius - Probably the most iconic of the extinct mammalian fauna, and most famous of the mammoth lineage, the Woolly Mammoth was the most derived and specialized of all the proboscideans, built perfectly to reside in the Mammoth Steppe that covered Eurasia and the northern areas of North America. Males of the species averaged around 3.0m in height and had a mass of about 6 tonnes, but varied from place to place, with those in Siberia being significantly smaller than those in Europe. Females were smaller and lighter than males and also possessed smaller tusks. It appears as though tusks in the females erupted relatively later in mammoths than in modern elephants, as seen in Yuka who is estimated to be between 8 and 11 years of age, although this could be an exception. The teeth of the Woolly Mammoth were perfectly designed to grind the coarse grasses that dominated the environment in which they lived. They had a number of adaptations allowing them to live in the cold grasslands of the north. It has been found that mammoths had an extra, oval flap of skin approximately ⅓ up the length of the trunk, and appears to potentially have been used like a *mitten to warm the dextrous finger like tips. They had a great musk ox-like coat of hair, with the guard hairs measuring up to a meter long. This was perfect for keeping cold out and the heat close to the body. They also secreted oily fats into their fur to mat it together, further amplifying the warming effect. In addition, they had proteins in their blood that prevented it from freezing. Lastly, they had incredibly small ears and a proportionally short tail to help reduce the amount of heat lost to the environment. They seem to have been as smart as modern day elephants and exhibited the same matriarchal herding structure seen in extant elephants, as evidenced by a phenomenal fossil trackway in Alberta, Canada, on which this drawing is based. It went extinct on mainland continents at the end of the Pleistocene around 11,000 years ago, but survived on islands until about 4,000 years ago, well into the Holocene. With the neanderthal, the Woolly Mammoth is the only extinct animal to have its entire genome sequenced.
*I tried to show the female in the front warming her trunk in the little “mitten” of skin, but I may have drawn it too big.
Again, when I scanned this picture not all of the detail was included such as ripples in the water, some of the fur, and some of the detail on the mountains. Most of the detail can be seen if you download the image. I hope everyone enjoys!
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It’s a crisp autumn morning along an ancient lake shore some 40,000 years ago in what is today, northern Illinois. A pair of Jefferson’s Ground Sloths (Megalonyx jeffersonii), have made their way down to the lake for an early morning drink before they start a long day of foraging on the browse within the dense forest behind. Before their thirst is quenched, a small family of American Mastodons (Mammut americanum) disrupts the tranquility of the scene as they too come to drink. A rambunctious calf, no more than four months old, plops his face into the cool water, not yet knowing how to use his dextrous trunk. Behind him his mother gently caresses his face, while his aunt and cousin collect water beside him. All the while, a Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) begins the collection of soft branches to stache for the coming winter so that he and his family might eat through the months of desolation ahead.
Castoroides ohioensis - a large rodent, and largest beaver, found across the United States and Canada. It differed from modern day beavers in the overall size of its massive body, being about the same size as a modern day Black Bear and also by the size of its incisors and the smaller size of its brain. Although there is no known evidence for this genus exhibiting dam building behavior, its close association with Castor (modern beavers) and Dipoides (an extinct beaver known to build dams), indicates that it quite possibly did.
Mammut americanum - The infamous American Mastodon, along with the Columbian and Woolly Mammoths, were the last of the great American proboscideans. It was not closely related to either of them as it was apart of the family Mammutidae as opposed to the Elephantidae and was more like a distant cousin. Males of this species averaged about 2.9m in height and weighed around 8 tonnes on average. It inhabited the entirety of North America, ranging from Alaska in the north to Honduras in the south. It was an herbivore, favoring the cold spruce forests that dominated the eastern United States, but made its home just about anywhere. It was a browser which allowed it to coexist with its grazing mammoth brethren. It appears to have exhibited the same matriarchal herding behavior seen in modern elephants.Megalonyx jeffersonii - The northernmost ranging member of the Giant Ground Sloths, its remains have been found even in the Yukon. Originally thought to have been a giant lion by American (at the time) vice president Thomas Jefferson, it was later found to be a sloth, and officially named after the American politician in 1822. It was a medium sized animal as far as the giants go, at about 3m long and weighing a tonne and would have probably stood around 2.1m tall when on hind legs. It was a browser and likely used its great arms to pull tree branches close to its mouth in order to eat the leaves. Some social behavior has been found as indicated by an adult sloth discovered with two juveniles of different ages.