Woolly Mammoth

Somme River crossed by Mammoths

Woolly Mammoths Cross the Somme

What’s the first image that comes to mind when I say “Ice Age”? You probably think of furry elephants roaming a tundra or forest in search of food. Your thinking of course, of the Woolly Mammoth; just about the most recognizable animal of the last ice age. Already an iconic creature, popular media and recent scientific discoveries have further entrenched this being into society. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many of the blog’s viewers thought of Manny the Mammoth from the Ice Age movies. While real Woolly Mammoths didn’t talk or make friends with meat eating predators, they were highly social, and like elephants today, they traveled in herds. Also like elephants, they were highly protective of  herd-mates and would protect children from attacks by predators such as cave lions, which were up to 25% larger than their modern African relatives. With such fierce animals roaming the tundra and plains of Siberia and much of the northern continents, not to mention the cold climate, they had to be big and strong.

Similarly sized to modern elephants, although looking much bigger in part due to their larger tusks and heavy coat of hair, the animals had some notable differences to their African sister species. First of all is the coat of fur which kept them warm and protected from the cold during the excessively long winter. In addition to the coat, mammoth skin exuded grease which helped to increase the hair’s ability to insulate. The tusks of the animal were also larger and may have been used to clear snow and rest their trunk.

The great beasts probably went extinct around the late Holocene, although a small population survived on Wrangel Island in Northern Siberia until 1700 BC. Greatly decreasing habitat at the end of the last Ice Age limited their numbers and human hunting probably drove them to extinction.

Despite this calamity, modern scientists can still study the animals to a certain extent. Because many froze to death, their skin and bones were preserved in the ice allowing for the possibility of DNA extraction similar to the premise of Jurassic Park. With enough, scientists may be able to insert the DNA into an Indian elephant’s embryo (using elephant DNA to fill in the gaps) and recreate a Mammoth. Some hypothesize it would be able to interbreed with other elephants and a stable population could be created in the distant future. Whatever happens, the Mammoth will forever stay an iconic animal of prehistory.



A frozen juvenile Mammoth found in Siberia

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