Majestic mammoths once roamed in herds across the ice age plains of North America, Europe, and Asia. Mammoths were closely related to modern elephants—in fact, studies of frozen mammoths found in Siberia show their DNA was almost identical to that of living elephants. There were eight species of mammoth, of which the most famous is the woolly mammoth, which died out only 3,700 years ago.
Woolly mammoth (WULL-ee MAMM-oth)
■ When: 5 million–10,000 years ago (Neogene)
■ Fossil location: N. America, Europe, Asia, Africa
■ Habitat: Plains
■ Length: 16 ft (5 m)
Long, shaggy hair with fine wool underneath covered the body of the woolly mammoth. Most adult woolly mammoths were slightly bigger than African elephants, but 6½ ft (2 m) tall “dwarf woolly mammoths” have also been found on an Arctic island. Adults had a distinct camel-like hump on the shoulders and enormous, curved tusks. Mammoths lived in Ice age grasslands and had ridged teeth for chewing tough grass and other small plants. Studies of woolly mammoth DNA reveal they were more closely related to the Asian elephant than the African species.
When an Asian elephant is born, its body is covered with thick, brownish-red hair, similar to the shaggy coat of its relative the woolly mammoth. However, since the Asian elephant lives in a warm, tropical climate, it sheds its hair as it grows older. Most adults have only sparse hairy patches. African elephants have even less hair.