Extinct Animals The Mastodon Part 1

About the now extinct animal species the Mastodon, history, physical description, location and how the species died out.


The Mastodon

Physical Description: This cousin of the mammoth stood 9 to 10 ft. tall at the shoulders and tipped the scales somewhere between 5 and 6 tons. Its legs were short in comparison to the rest of its body, which was entirely covered with a mat of long, thick, dark brown hair. Two large tusks were positioned on either side of its trunk, and the mastodon's teeth were so humanlike in appearance that early settlers in the U.S. believed giant men had once inhabited the continent.

Where and How They Lived: The mastodon originated in Asia and migrated to North America 800,000 years ago, lumbering across a bridge of land which then connected Asia and Alaska. Although these large creatures lived during the Great Ice Age, all evidence indicates that they had no problems avoiding most of the bad weather; in fact, their search for trees and grasses to munch on probably took them into the New World during a time when the route was ice-free. Their passion for birch, willow, and alder leaves led them south from Alaska into Canada, and from there they ate their way into the forests east of the Mississippi. Several of the slower mastodons apparently go lost and made a wrong turn in Canada, and thus discovered the Pacific Ocean long before Vasco Nunez de Balboa.

How and When Destroyed: A present-day panel of experts has pretty much cleared humans of the blame for this extinction even though Paleo-Indians did occasionally eat mastodons 40,000 years ago, and more recently medicine men used fragments of mastodon tusks to enhance their powers of magic. But why the mastodon died out 10,000 years ago may never be known. Climate changes, scarcity of food and water, and even volcanic eruptions have been put forward as theories to explain the beasts' disappearance.

President Thomas Jefferson was fossil-crazy and hoped that living mastodons and mammoths might be found grazing in the unexplored western regions of the U.S. Charles Willson Peale was a friend of Jefferson who owned the Peale Museum in Philadelphia and painted portraits of famous Americans in his spare time. In 1801 he heard reports that farmers near Newburgh, N.Y., had been pulling mastodon bones out of the area's swamps. Peale resolved his would be the first museum to assemble a mastodon skeleton, and he dashed off to New York to buy the bones from John Masten, who had found the greater part of a skeleton while digging for fertilizer on his farm. In addition to providing a double-barreled gun for Masten's son and city dresses for his daughters, Peale paid the farmer $300 for the heap of bones, but Masten had to agree to allow Peale to excavate until he had a complete set. An exhausted Peale returned to Philadelphia after two months of digging and turned the bones over to his son, Rembrandt, to assemble. Rembrandt did an excellent job except for the tusks, which he placed pointing backwards, but soon he realized his mistake and repositioned them.

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