This depiction of a member of the mammuthus genera belonging to the species, Mammuthus Imperator [Imperial mammoth], was painted in acrylic watercolours in 1982.
It was copied from an illustration in Life Before Man, published in 1972, which was written in Czechoslovakian by Z. V Spinar, translated by Margot Schierlová and illustrated by Zdenêk Burian, with line drawings by A. Benesovà.
A description of Mammuthus Imperator runs across the foot of pages 184 -185, beneath illustrations of the subject, shown consecutively as item one and two in the slideshow I have set: Mammuthus Imperator, one of the biggest proboscids, lived on the great southern plains of North America during the mid-Pleistocene period at the time of the first interglacial.
It was over 12 ft high and so, taller than the African Elephant of today. Its short flat-backed skull had a prominent boss on the crown, and its huge tusks were up to 14 ft long. Well-preserved skeletons have been found in Texas. Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as well as in the tar pits at Rancho La Brea, now a public open space in Los Angeles.
The book charts the pageant of life from its earliest beginnings and also includes the evolution of prehistoric humans from their pre human origins as Australopithecines to the introduction of settled farming 5000 years ago.
As indicated previously, the original illustration for the featured painting is included in a slideshow – it can also be found online.
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus, proboscideans belonging to the Family elephantidae commonly equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair, which lived from the Pliocene epoch, around 5 million years ago.
The woolly mammoth, given the scientifically specific title of Mammuthus Primigenius [original, first born] was the last [ironically] in a line of mammoth species and diverged from the steppe mammoth, Mammuthus tragontheri around 200,000 years ago. Though not the largest of the mammuthus genera, woolly mammoths were huge shaggy creatures with large males reaching shoulder heights of between nine to eleven feet.
Woolly mammoths coexisted with early humans, who used their bones and tusks for making art, tools, and dwellings, and the species was also hunted for food. It disappeared from its mainland range at the end of the Pleistocene between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, most likely through a combination of climate change, consequent disappearance of its habitat, and hunting by humans, though the significance of these factors is disputed.
Isolated populations survived on Wrangel Island in the Artic until around 1700 BC, nearly 4,000 years ago, and on St. Paul Island until 6,400 years ago. After its extinction, humans continued using its ivory as a raw material, and this tradition continues today
Mammoths were members of the family Elephantidae, which contains the two genera of modern elephants: Loxodonta [the African elephants], and the Asian elephant, [Elephas maximus], which is closely related to the mammoth genus Mammuthus.
Today’s African elephants are the largest of all land animals, adult males weighing between 2 and 7 tons / 4,000 and 14,000 lb. [1,800 and 6,300 kg] Females are smaller, weighing between 3 and 4 tons / 6,000 and 8,000 lb.[2,700 and 3,600 kg]
Loxodonta africana africana, the Savanna Subspecies weigh between 4-7 tons [8,000 – 14,000 lb] with a shoulder height standing at 9.8 to 13.1 ft. And Loxodonta africana cyclotis, the Forest Subspecies weigh in at 2 to 4 tons [4,000 – 8,000 lb, standing 6.6 to 9.8 ft high at the shoulder.
Both Subspecies have two fingers at the end of the trunk. Their ears are huge and wing-shaped, exceeding the height of the head, carrying an extensive network of veins used in cooling the blood in hot arid conditions. The ears are very mobile and used expressively in signalling their moods and intentions. They are used as receptors in subsonic communication via their rumbling vocalizations and are so sensitive they can pick up frequencies several octaves lower than that perceived by the human ear. The feet are also very sensitive and can receive seismic waves transmitted through the ground across long distances. They are very intelligent and have excellent memories, recognizing members from other clans when they meet at waterholes after lengthy intervals of separation. They are also known to bear grudges when thwarted or mistreated.
African elephants are most easily distinguished from their Asian elephants not only by these facts and by their larger size but also by their distinctive visual profile: Their backs dip in the middle and are thus concave in shape rather than humped like their Asian counterparts with their underbellies bulging downwards. The interior beneath the spine contains up to 21 pairs of ribs.
Elephas maximus, the Asian elephant is the genera most closely related to mammoths and is believed to be the direct descendent of the woolly mammoth [Mammuthus Primigenius] already referred to previously in this article and enlarged upon in the following paragraph.
Asian elephants weigh between 6614 lb – 11023 lb [3.307 – 5.5115 tons] [3,000 – 5,000 kg] with a shoulder height – 6.6 ft – 11.5 ft [2 – 3.5m]. The highest point of their bodies is the top of the head. The shape of the back is convex and therefore humped in appearance, and the interior beneath the spine contains up to 20 pairs of ribs. They have a dished forehead with two bumps immediately behind it. The ears are small and not exceeding the height of the neck and only the males bear tusks. The trunk has rings placed singly rather than in pairs like the African elephant, and has only one finger at the tip. The front foot has 5 toenails and the hind foot 4 or 5. They also tend to retain vestigial fur from their recent ancestry, particularly on the top of the head and back. Some Asian Subspecies bear pale or bright pinkish patches with darker freckled areas, mainly around the trunk and part of the face, ears and throat, giving them a strikingly mottled appearance.
The earliest known proboscideans, the clade which contains the elephants, existed about 55 million years ago around the Tethys Sea area, an almost continuous strip of water comprising the present day Meditteranean Sea, Black Sea, and the Gulf of Arabia.
Above this waterway was a single landmass called Laurasia, a fusion of the northern continents. Below the waterway was a similar fusion of the southern continents known as Gondwanaland. This was before the Atlantic Ocean had opened up from the oceanic ridge at the mid-Atlantic plate margin. As a result the Tethys Sea opened up from the eastern end of the landmasses extending right around the globe to the western end in one vast ocean that was twice the size of the present day Pacific called the Panthalassic Ocean.
This was during the late Paleocene and early Eocene epochs around 55.8 million years ago, a warm period of around 170,000 years duration in which [as has already been stated] the early proboscideans arose. Previously these two continents had been fused together as one great supercontinent called Pangaea.
This was all part of one great cyclic pattern of splitting and reforming in slightly different alignments over the eons, starting with the original supercontinent of Rodinia, then splitting and continuing briefly [geologically speaking] with Pannotia as an intermediate formation before splitting again and reforming as Pangaea.
Amongst the list of forerunners of all elephants, the most well known is the moeritherium [a small aquatic mammal, tapir-like in appearance with a slightly elongated prehensile upper lip – a sign of things to come]. Their shovel-tusked descendants were the generally squat, swamp-dwelling gomphotheres with elongated upper and lower jaws, both of which, had a pair of tusks projecting horizontally outwards, although the lower set were more like blunt-edged chisel-shaped teeth. They were followed by the elephantine deinotheres with their tusks curving downwards and inwards from underneath their lower lip, and the equally elephantine stegodons and mastodons, both with their incredibly long curving tusks. All now, extinct.
The closest relatives of the Proboscideans with us today aside from their descendants the African and Asian elephants, are the sirenians [Manatees and Dugong, otherwise known as sea cows] and the African rock-dwelling hyraxes [small furry mammals, superficially rodent-like in appearance] There was another sirenian called Stellar’s Sea Cow native to north east Pacific waters, which I believe is now considered recently extinct. Although the coelacanth was once considered extinct until rediscovered years later, and that’s not the only example of rediscovery after being presumed extinct; there are many others, too many to list here.
African elephants are now lumped in a clade called Afrotheres, which includes Aardvarks, Elephant shrews, Tenrecs, Sengis and Golden moles together with the aformentioned Rock hyraxes and Manatees. Although not restricted to Africa in the fossil record due to its previous joining with South America, the clade is now recognized as one of the four major groups within the Eutheria [placental mammals] together with the four cohorts, Xenarthra [South America], Laurasiatheria and Euarchontoglires [which sounds more like an accusation than a zoological assignation].
The family Elephantidae is known to have existed six million years ago in Africa, and includes the living elephants and the mammoths. Among many now extinct clades, the mastodon is only a distant relative of the mammoths, and part of the separate Mammutidae family which diverged 25 million years before the mammoths evolved.
The basic information is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia with considerable editorial input and extensive research from other sources such as Defenders of Wildlife, Animal Fact Guide, and National Geographic.
Dave Draper, May 2014
Updated July and August 2014