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Mammoths and Mastodons: Similarities and Differences

This article was featured in the April 13, 2019 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Mammoths and Mastodons: Similarities and Differences

Mammoth tooth on left, mastodon on right. Image taken by Ghedoghedo.

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise


Any fossil fan has heard of both mammoths and mastodons, but what is the difference?  They are both related to elephants, they are similarly sized, both are extinct, and both were hairy with long tusks.  However, that’s where most of the similarities end and the differences begin to show.


Mammoths are probably the most popular and recognizable, with their giant, curved tusks and back hump, which is thought to have stored fat reserves.  Mastodons stood a little shorter and stockier, and their tusks were straighter.  Both animals likely used their tusks to brush ice and snow off their food, as well as defense and display.


Both were herbivorous, but what they ate differed and it shows in their teeth.  Mastodon teeth had large, rounded cusps which helped them to eat the rough, tree and shrub materials they found in their forest homes. Mammoths occupied more open areas and grazed on grasses, so their teeth were flatter with deep ridges to help with grinding their plant material.


Although both animals look similar and are related, they occupied different niches in their environments and adapted to bet fit their homes, just like many animals do today. Like all extinct life, we have much to learn about these two species, but scientists learn more and more everyday.




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