Mammoth

Mammoth

Overview
A mammoth is any species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of the extinct genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Mammuthus. These proboscidea
Proboscidea
Proboscidea is a taxonomic order containing one living family, Elephantidae, and several extinct families. This order was first described by J. Illiger in 1881 and encompasses the trunked mammals...

ns are members of Elephantidae
Elephantidae
Elephantidae is a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct...

, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair
Hair
Hair is a filamentous biomaterial, that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Found exclusively in mammals, hair is one of the defining characteristics of the mammalian class....

. They lived from the Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

 Epoch
Epoch (geology)
An epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale based on rock layering. In order, the higher subdivisions are periods, eras and eons. We are currently living in the Holocene epoch...

 from around 4.8 million years ago, into the Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

 at about 4,500 years ago. The word mammoth comes from the Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

  mamont, probably in turn from the Vogul (Mansi) language
Mansi language
The Mansi language is a language of the Mansi people. It is spoken in territories of Russia along the Ob River and its tributaries, including the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and the Sverdlovsk Oblast...

, mang ont, meaning "earth horn".

Like their modern relative the elephant (Asian or African), mammoths were quite large; in English the noun "mammoth" has become an adjective meaning "large" or "massive".
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Encyclopedia
A mammoth is any species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of the extinct genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Mammuthus. These proboscidea
Proboscidea
Proboscidea is a taxonomic order containing one living family, Elephantidae, and several extinct families. This order was first described by J. Illiger in 1881 and encompasses the trunked mammals...

ns are members of Elephantidae
Elephantidae
Elephantidae is a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct...

, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair
Hair
Hair is a filamentous biomaterial, that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Found exclusively in mammals, hair is one of the defining characteristics of the mammalian class....

. They lived from the Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

 Epoch
Epoch (geology)
An epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale based on rock layering. In order, the higher subdivisions are periods, eras and eons. We are currently living in the Holocene epoch...

 from around 4.8 million years ago, into the Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

 at about 4,500 years ago. The word mammoth comes from the Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

  mamont, probably in turn from the Vogul (Mansi) language
Mansi language
The Mansi language is a language of the Mansi people. It is spoken in territories of Russia along the Ob River and its tributaries, including the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and the Sverdlovsk Oblast...

, mang ont, meaning "earth horn".

Size


Like their modern relative the elephant (Asian or African), mammoths were quite large; in English the noun "mammoth" has become an adjective meaning "large" or "massive". The largest known species, Songhua River mammoth
Mammuthus sungari
Mammuthus sungari, sometimes called the Songhua River Mammoth, evolved from smaller Siberian mammoths and occurred in Northern China during the middle Pleistocene...

 (Mammuthus sungari) , reached heights of at least 5 metres (16 ft) at the shoulder. Mammoths would probably normally weigh in the region of 6 to 8 ton
Ton
The ton is a unit of measure. It has a long history and has acquired a number of meanings and uses over the years. It is used principally as a unit of weight, and as a unit of volume. It can also be used as a measure of energy, for truck classification, or as a colloquial term.It is derived from...

s, but exceptionally large males may have exceeded 12 tons. However, most species of mammoth were only about as large as a modern Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

. Fossils of species of dwarf mammoth
Dwarf elephant
Dwarf elephants are prehistoric members of the order Proboscidea, that, through the process of allopatric speciation, evolved to a fraction of the size of their immediate ancestors...

 have been found on the Californian Channel Island
Santa Rosae
Santa Rosae was an ancient landmass off the coast of present-day southern California, near Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, of which the northern Channel Islands of California are remnants....

s (Mammuthus exilis) and the Mediterranean island of Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

 (Mammuthus lamarmorae). There was also a race of dwarf woolly mammoth
Woolly mammoth
The woolly mammoth , also called the tundra mammoth, is a species of mammoth. This animal is known from bones and frozen carcasses from northern North America and northern Eurasia with the best preserved carcasses in Siberia...

s on Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland...

, north of Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

, within the Arctic Circle.
An 11 feet (3.4 m) long mammoth tusk was discovered north of Lincoln, Illinois
Lincoln, Illinois
Lincoln is a city in Logan County, Illinois, United States. It is the only town in the United States that was named for Abraham Lincoln before he became president; he practiced law there from 1847 to 1859. First settled in the 1830s, Lincoln is home to three colleges and two prisons. The three...

 in 2005.

Based on studies of their close relatives the modern elephants, mammoths probably had a gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period of 22 months, resulting in a single calf being born. Their social structure was probably the same as that of African and Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

s, with females living in herds headed by a matriarch, whilst bulls lived solitary lives or formed loose groups after sexual maturity.

Extinction




The dwarf mammoth was the last species of the genus. Most populations of the woolly mammoth in North America and Eurasia, as well all the Columbian mammoth
Columbian Mammoth
The Columbian Mammoth is an extinct species of elephant of the Quaternary period that appeared in North America during the late Pleistocene. It is believed by some authorities to be the same species as its slightly larger cousin, M...

s in North America, died out around the time of the last glacial retreat
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

, as part of a mass extinction
Quaternary extinction event
The Quaternary period saw the extinctions of numerous predominantly larger, especially megafaunal, species, many of which occurred during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene epoch. However, the extinction wave did not stop at the end of the Pleistocene, but continued especially on...

 of megafauna
Pleistocene megafauna
Pleistocene megafauna is the set of species of large animals — mammals, birds and reptiles — that lived on Earth during the Pleistocene epoch and became extinct in a Quaternary extinction event. These species appear to have died off as humans expanded out of Africa and southern Asia,...

 in northern Eurasia and the Americas. Until recently, it was generally assumed that the last woolly mammoths vanished from Europe and southern Siberia about 10,000 BC
Anno Domini
and Before Christ are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars....

, but new findings show that some were still present there about 8000 BC. Only slightly later, the woolly mammoths also disappeared from continental northern Siberia. A small population survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, up until 3,750 BC, and the small mammoths of Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland...

 survived until 1,650 BC.

A definitive explanation for their mass extinction is yet to be agreed upon. The warming trend (Holocene) that occurred 12,000 years ago, accompanied by a glacial retreat and rising sea levels, has been suggested as a contributing factor. Forests replaced open woodlands and grasslands across the continent. The available habitat may have been reduced for some megafaunal species, such as the mammoth. However, such climate changes were nothing new; numerous very similar warming episodes had occurred previously within the ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 of the last several million years without producing comparable megafaunal extinctions, so climate alone is unlikely to have played a decisive role. The spread of advanced human hunters through northern Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

 and the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

 around the time of the extinctions was a new development, and thus might have contributed significantly.

Whether the general mammoth population died out for climatic reasons or due to overhunting by humans is controversial. Another theory suggests that mammoths may have fallen victim to an infectious disease. A combination of climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 and hunting by humans has been suggested as a possible explanation for their extinction. Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

is known to have consumed mammoth meat as early as 1.8 million years ago.

However, the American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Institute of Biological Sciences
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a non-profit scientific association that is dedicated to advancing biological research and education.-Overview:...

 also notes bones of dead elephants, left on the ground and subsequently trampled by other elephants, tend to bear marks resembling butchery marks, which have previously been misinterpreted as such by archaeologists
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

.

The survival of the dwarf mammoths on Russia's
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland...

 was due to the island's very remote location and lack of inhabitants in the early Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

 period. The European discovery of the island (by American whalers) did not occur until the 1820s. A similar dwarfing
Insular dwarfism
Insular dwarfism, a form of phyletic dwarfism, is the process and condition of the reduction in size of large animals – typically mammals – when their population's range is limited to a small environment, primarily islands. This natural process is distinct from the intentional creation of dwarf...

 occurred with the pygmy mammoth
Pygmy Mammoth
The Pygmy Mammoth or Channel Islands Mammoth is an extinct species of dwarf elephant descended from the Columbian mammoth . A case of island or insular dwarfism, M. exilis was only to tall at the shoulder and weighed about , in contrast to its tall, ancestor.Remains of M...

 on the outer Channel Islands of California
Channel Islands of California
The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel in the United States of America...

, but at an earlier period. Those animals were very likely killed by early Paleo-Native Americans, and habitat loss caused by a rising sea level that split Santa Rosae
Santa Rosae
Santa Rosae was an ancient landmass off the coast of present-day southern California, near Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, of which the northern Channel Islands of California are remnants....

 into the outer Channel Islands.

Recent research indicates that mammoths survived on the American mainland until 10,000 years ago. This conclusion is from research, by James Haile and Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...

, of sediments found in central Alaska, and reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

.

Yet another theory explaining the extinction of all the North American megafauna as well as the Clovis culture
Clovis culture
The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture that first appears 11,500 RCYBP , at the end of the last glacial period, characterized by the manufacture of "Clovis points" and distinctive bone and ivory tools...

 is the "Clovis comet," a hypothesized asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

 or comet
Comet
A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

 airburst or impact on the glacial ice-sheet event which caused effects similar to but less severe in scale to the larger global impact event theorized as responsible for the extinction of the dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s.

Well-preserved specimens and prospects for cloning


In May 2007, the carcass of a one-month-old female woolly mammoth calf
Lyuba
Lyuba is a female woolly mammoth calf who died ca 40,000 years ago at the age of one month. She is by far the best preserved mammoth mummy in the world, surpassing Dima, a male mammoth calf mummy which had previously been the best known specimen.Discovered in May 2007 by reindeer breeder and...

 was discovered in a layer of permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 near the Yuribei River in Russia, where it had been buried for approximately 10,000 years. Alexei Tikhonov, the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute's deputy director, has dismissed the prospect of cloning the animal, as the whole cells required for cloning would have burst under the freezing conditions. Nonetheless, DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 is expected to be well-enough preserved to be useful for research on mammoth phylogeny and perhaps physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

. However, Dr. Sayaka Wakayama from the RIKEN
RIKEN
is a large natural sciences research institute in Japan. Founded in 1917, it now has approximately 3000 scientists on seven campuses across Japan, the main one in Wako, just outside Tokyo...

 Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe
Kobe
, pronounced , is the fifth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, approximately west of Osaka...

, Japan, believes that a technique she has used to clone mice from specimens frozen for sixteen years could be used successfully on recovered mammoth tissue: she cites that in her experiments the dead mice had been frozen to -20°C
Celsius
Celsius is a scale and unit of measurement for temperature. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius , who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death...

 under simulated natural conditions, without using the usual preservative chemicals.

Researchers at Penn State University have sequenced about 85% of the gene map of the woolly mammoth, using DNA taken from hair samples collected from a selection of specimens, advancing the possibility of bringing the woolly mammoth back to life by inserting mammoth DNA sequences into the genome of the modern-day elephant, transferring it into an egg cell and, in turn, into the uterus of an elephant as a variant of interspecific pregnancy. Although the samples were washed with bleach to remove possible contamination by bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 or fungi, some DNA bases identified may be from the contaminating organisms and these have yet to be distinguished. To this end, scientists at the Broad Institute
Broad Institute
The Broad Institute is a genomic medicine research center located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Although it is independently governed and supported as a 501 nonprofit research organization, the institute is formally affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard...

 are currently generating a comparison with the genome of the African elephant. The information cannot be used to synthesize mammoth DNA, but Dr. Stephan Schuster, leader of the project, notes that the mammoth’s genes differ at only some 400,000 sites from the genome of the African elephant and it would be possible (though not with presently available technology) to modify an elephant cell at these sites to make it resemble one bearing a mammoth's genome, and implant it into a surrogate elephant mother.

In January 2011, it was reported by Yomiuri Shimbun
Yomiuri Shimbun
The is a Japanese newspaper published in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and other major Japanese cities. It is one of the five national newspapers in Japan; the other four are the Asahi Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, and the Sankei Shimbun...

 that a team of scientists headed by Akira Iritani of Kyoto University
Kyoto University
, or is a national university located in Kyoto, Japan. It is the second oldest Japanese university, and formerly one of Japan's Imperial Universities.- History :...

 had built upon research by Dr. Wakayama mentioned above, saying they will extract DNA from a mammoth carcass that had been preserved in a Russian laboratory and insert it into the egg cells of an African elephant in hopes of producing a mammoth embryo. The researchers said they hoped to produce a baby mammoth within six years.

Availability of remains


There is an estimate of 150 million mammoth remains in Russia's Siberian permafrost, which covers a vast sparsely inhabited area. Some of the remains are frozen complete, others in pieces of bone, tusk, tissue and wool, from less than a metre (3.3 ft) to 1 km (3300 ft) below ground.

See also


  • Ivory trade
  • La Brea Tar Pits
    La Brea Tar Pits
    The La Brea Tar Pits are a cluster of tar pits around which Hancock Park was formed, in the urban heart of Los Angeles. Asphaltum or tar has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with water...

     - cluster of tar pits located in Los Angeles
    Los Ángeles
    Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

    , California
    California
    California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

    , USA
  • Mastodon
    Mastodon
    Mastodons were large tusked mammal species of the extinct genus Mammut which inhabited Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Central America from the Oligocene through Pleistocene, 33.9 mya to 11,000 years ago. The American mastodon is the most recent and best known species of the group...

  • Pleistocene Park
    Pleistocene Park
    Pleistocene Park is a nature reserve south of Chersky in the Sakha Republic in northeastern Siberia, where an attempt is being made to recreate the northern steppe grassland ecosystem that flourished in the area during the last ice age.-Goals:...

  • Mammuthus primigenius
    Woolly mammoth
    The woolly mammoth , also called the tundra mammoth, is a species of mammoth. This animal is known from bones and frozen carcasses from northern North America and northern Eurasia with the best preserved carcasses in Siberia...


External links