All About the Woolly Mammoth
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
By now, you should know quite a bit about Ice ages and how they happen. These happened quite a few times in the history of the Earth. You and I are living in a time just after such an ice age. This time period is long after the death of the dinosaurs and the K-T extinction, when most of the dinosaurs started to go extinct.
Many millions of years later, mammals (mam-mals) started to appear and soon enough, they replaced the dinosaurs as the dominant species. Soon, a lot of interesting mammals started to appear as scientists tried to learn more about what happened after the dinosaurs went extinct.
They found out that the last time that there was an ice age, was there for a long time and only ended about 10,000 years ago, not a very long time when you think of how old the planet is. Although the entire planet was not covered in ice as you might think it was, life wasn’t easy during this time period.
The temperature of the entire planet was very low, and many animals had to adapt to survive in such harsh conditions. Of course, when talking about animals that evolved to live during the last ice age, you couldn’t go without thinking about the woolly mammoth. These lumbering giants were long lost cousins of the elephants you see today. The only difference was that they had a warm, thick fur coat to keep them protected from the cold.
You shouldn’t believe everything you see in the Ice Age movies. But everyone’s favourite mammoth, Manny and his family are very similar to what a woolly mammoth would have looked like, except they are cute, cartoony versions of the actual creatures (you should know that). You might have noticed that I keep calling it woolly mammoth. That’s because yes, there are a lot of other kinds of mammoths that existed long ago.
Mammuthus primigenius is what all the scientists call the woolly mammoth. Of course, that wasn’t the case for a long time. Before people realised about the mammoth, they thought the bones they found were from giants that used to live long time ago.
Most of the time, people would find parts of bone, teeth and tusks of these woolly mammoths, so they couldn’t tell it was from an animal that looked like an elephant without a lot of hard thinking. But they finally realised it and soon enough, the word mammoth was used to name them.
A cool thing about the ice age is, everything is so cold. Sometimes, it gets cold enough that entire bodies freeze and remain hidden in the ice. Little by little, parts of mammoth bodies were discovered, and it didn’t take long to actual complete bodies of them started to be discovered, frozen solid and preserved in the ice. Many of them are displayed in museums around the world.
An elephant with a winter coat?
There are some differences between the woolly mammoth and modernday elephants. But from what is discovered, woolly mammoths might have lived a lot like the elephants do today. It could have been that they lived in groups, caring for their young.
We do know that their diet was very similar to the plant food eaten by elephants today as well, but they might have needed to eat a lot more than modern elephants, because of how big they were and how much energy would have been used just to keep themselves warm.
Unlike elephants that live in today’s tropical climates, woolly mammoths lived throughout Europe, Russia and North America, and were very successful as a species. You might already know that woolly mammoths shared the Earth with humans, who also existed during this time period. Mammoth-bone was used a lot by humans of the time to make tools.
We also know that humans did hunt woolly mammoths to survive, thanks to research of mammoths that have been hurt by human tools and cave drawings that showed images of this happening, but most likely this would have happened very rarely.
It’s not easy to take down one of these creatures. Scientists aren’t completely sure why woolly mammoths went extinct, but they think it happened around six thousand years ago. Of course, we’ll have to keep looking for answers to figure that out.
But until then, why not appreciate these amazing creatures and imagine how they would have lived all those thousands of years ago.