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Kids: Mammoth

There is plenty to learn here about Mammoths! We also tell something about the ice ages and the extinction of the Mammoth.


What is a mammoth?

The Woolly Mammoth is a relative of the elephant. He had a lot of hair to protect itself against the cold during the Ice Age.  It was about 3 meters high. Mammoths were herbivores, like elephants. About 12,000 years ago, after the end of the last ice age, times became increasingly difficult for the mommoths. Although people hunted mammoths, the mammoth is probably not went extinct by man. Due to the warmer climate, their habitat became smaller. Around 4,000 years ago, the last mammoths, which lived in northern Siberia became extinct.

Impression of a herd of mammoths, CM Knight

There actually have several types of mammoths. When we speak about "the mammoth", we usually mean the "woolly mammoth. The scientific name of this woolly mammoth is 'Mammuthus primigenius'. This means as much as 'the first mammoth', but it certainly was not the first kind of mammoth which exist. Scientists have named it this way because it was the first they have described. It was also the most widespread (they lived in America and Asia) and most numerous species.

Other mammoth species that lived in Europe include the Southern mammoth (M. meridionalis) and the Steppe Mammoth  (M. trogontherii). This last is probably the ancestor of the woolly mammoth. In America, some very large mammoth species lived. The most famous was perhaps the Imperial Mammoth (M. imperator). This one was up to 5 meters high!

The Ice Age

In the past few million years there have been regular ice ages. During the ice ages large ice sheets existed in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. In the second last ice age, the ice sheets extended far into northern Europe an America. In these regions the climate was very cold, but the animals have adapted it to by growing thick fur.

In the polar ice sheets, there was a lot of frozen water. Therefore, the water level of the sea was much lower than today. The North Sea (Europe) was almost completely dry during the Ice Age, and there were large grassy plains where herds of mammoths and other animals lived. As a result, fishermen often find bones of mammoths at the bottom of todays North Sea. Because some seas were dry, the Woolly Mammoth could spread throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Mammoth tooth from the North Sea (Photo Olof Moleman)

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