Mastodons are elephant-like creatures, the most well-known of which is the American mastodon. Though similar in appearance to woolly mammoths and elephants, they are found in a different family, the Mammutidae.
Genera and Species
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Proboscidea
Family – Mammutidae
Genus – Mammut
Species – M. americanum
Common Name – American Mastodon, Mastodont
Distantly related to elephants and mammoths, mastodons share many characteristics including a large body, four thick legs, a long trunk and large tusks. Like mammoths, they have small ears and a shaggy coat of fur. However, unlike elephants and mammoths, they lack a steep forehead and prominent shoulder hump. Mastodons have flat heads and deep chests, and their legs are shorter and they are smaller overall than mammoths.
Length – 14.75 ft. (4.5 meters)
Height – 10 ft. (3 meters) at the shoulder
Weight – 9900 lbs. (4500 kg)
There is some evidence that mastodons were social creatures similar to modern elephants, but little is known about much of their behavior. Their teeth are quite different from elephants, more primitive and jagged, which indicates they ate mostly leaves, pinecones, twigs and pine needles. Unlike mammoths, who were primarily grazing animals that ate low and ground vegetation, mastodons were browsers who gathered most of their food from trees. Much of what we know of mastodon feeding habits comes from preserved stomach contents in mummified specimens.
History of Discovery
Mastodons diverged from the rest of the Proboscidea around around 25 million years ago. They likely became extinct around 10,000 years ago in most areas, though small pockets of mastodons are believed to have survived until as recently as 4,000 years ago.
The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals, Donald R. Prothero, 2017.