Friday, April 01, 2016
Prehistoric Elephant Family: Partnership
Of the myriad Trunked Mammals who once roamed the earth, only African and Asian Elephants still remain today. At one time, Proboscids (Trunked Mammals) lived everywhere except Antarctica and Australia. Spreading from Africa where They originated, these Mammals flourished during the Miocene Period (from 20 million years ago (mya) to 5 mya). Since many Proboscids were not immune to the cold, only a few survived the Ice Age.
Trunked Mammals have a long complex evolutionary history. Beginning as small herbivores sixty mya, these Mammals resembled modern Pigmy Hippos. For example, Moeritherium did look like a small Hippo but possessed a flexible upper lip and snout like an Elephant. Then a cousin, Deinotherium appeared alongside the Gomphotheres (Early Elephants) about fifteen mya. Many of the Gomphotheres had flat tusks to shovel plants out of soft swampy ground. In addition, They used their trunks to uproot trees.
Mastodons split off from the Elephant Family (which also includes Mammoths). Unlike Mammoths, Mastodons had cheek teeth with low-rounded crowns. Meanwhile, Mammoths had the most highly evolved of elephantine teeth. Because of the grinding surfaces of their teeth, Mammoths could eat grasses whilst Mastodons searched the trees for tender leaves. Mastodons preferred warm climates to the Mammoths’ cold ones.
The Family of Trunked Mammals has been a part of human history from the very beginning. Both Humans and Proboscids evolved together in Africa. Later both spread out of Africa to populate the world. When Paleo-humans needed food and shelter, they hunted Trunked Mammals. They also built their homes from the bones and hides of various Proboscids. To honor Them, Paleo-peoples painted the likenesses of Mammoths and Mastodons on cave walls.
The infant science of paleontology became advanced through the study of Proboscids’ teeth and bones. Since Trunked Mammals were widely distributed around the world, early scientists could trace their evolution. Because Proboscid fossils were plentiful and readily available, early naturalists could learn their craft from these fossils.
Throughout the ages, humans entered into a partnership with various Trunked Mammals. As each developed, They learned from each other. Proboscids provided for humans and taught them basic life skills. In return, Humans honored Them. The lesson of Trunked Mammals is that a partnership is one of equals. We need to be good partners as They have taught us and protect their living representatives. Today all that remain are endangered.
Science Note: Manatees, dugongs, and hyraxes are the closest living relatives of elephants. They are descended from Moeritherium.
(Updated from earlier 2010 blog.)