Sunday, October 30, 2005

Great Beasts of Prehistoric Illinois

The Associated Press today offers a combo story on the multiple mastadon and mammoths remains that turned up across the state in September. I'd read about a few of the findings about a month ago in the Chicago Tribune.

For the first time though, I've actually read what the difference is between mammoths and mastadons, both of which to me resemble a huge shaggy elephant. Here's what paleontologist Jeffrey Saunders explains.
"Mastodons browsed off trees and lived in wetlands, so they were occupying their own burial grounds, and we often find fairly complete specimens," he said. "But mammoths were grazing animals that haunted the grasslands where the glaciers had just retreated. They lived and died in open fields, and their remains were scattered. Streams often carried their teeth and bones into wetlands and gravel pits."

Saunders said that while both mastodons and mammoths were quite prevalent in Illinois until some 10,000 or 11,000 years ago, there's no way of knowing what their total populations were. And although both animals resembled modern elephants, they were not closely related to each other.

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