AskDefine | Define mastodon

Dictionary Definition

mastodon n : extinct elephant-like mammal that flourished worldwide from Miocene through Pleistocene times; differ from mammoths in the form of the molar teeth [syn: mastodont]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Mastodon


Alternative spellings


First attested 1813, from Modern Latin genus name Mastodon (1806), coined by Georges Cuvier, from mastos, "breast" + -dont, "tooth," from the similarity of the nipple-like projections on the crowns of the extinct mammal's molars.


  1. Extinct elephant-like mammal of the genus Mammut that flourished worldwide from Miocene through Pleistocene times; differs from elephants and mammoths in the form of the molar teeth.


Extensive Definition

Mastodons or Mastodonts (from Greek μαστός and οδούς, meaning "nipple tooth") are members of the extinct genus Mammut of the order Proboscidea and form the family Mammutidae; they resembled, but were distinct from, the woolly mammoth, which belongs to the family Elephantidae. Mastodons were browsers, while mammoths were grazers.


Mastodons are thought to have first appeared almost four million years ago. They were native to both Eurasia and North America but the Eurasian species Mammut borsoni died out approximately three million years ago - fossils having been found in England, Germany, the Netherlands and northern Greece. Mammut americanum disappeared from North America about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as most other Pleistocene megafauna.
Though their habitat spanned a large territory, mastodons were most common in the ice age spruce forests of the eastern United States, as well as in warmer lowland environments. Their remains have been found as far as 300 kilometers offshore of the northeastern United States, in areas that were dry land during the low sea level stand of the last ice age. Mastodon fossils have been found in South America; on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, USA (Manis Mastodon Site); in Kentucky (particularly noteworthy are early finds in what is now Big Bone Lick State Park); the Kimmswick Bone Bed in Missouri; in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, Canada; in Richland County, Wisconsin; La Grange, Texas; Southern Louisiana; and north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA.


While mastodons were furry like woolly mammoths and similar in height at roughly three meters at the shoulder, the resemblance was superficial. They differed from mammoths primarily in the blunt, conical, nipple-like projections on the crowns of their molars, which were more suited to chewing leaves than the high-crowned teeth mammoths used for grazing; the name mastodon (or mastodont) means "nipple teeth" and is also an obsolete name for their genus. Their skulls were larger and flatter than those of mammoths, while their skeleton was stockier and more robust. Mastodons also seem to have lacked the undercoat characteristic of mammoths.


Recent studies indicate that tuberculosis may have been partly responsible for the extinction of the mastodon 10,000 years ago.
Another influencing factor to their eventual extinction in America during the late Pleistocene may have been the presence of Paleo-indians, which entered the American contient in relatively large numbers 13,000 years ago. Their hunting caused a gradual attrition to the Mastodon and Mammoth populations, siginificant enough that over time the Mastodons were hunted to extinction.
In September 2007, Mark Holley, an underwater archeologist with the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council who teaches at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan, said that they might have discovered a boulder (3.5 to 4 feet high x 5 feet long) with a prehistoric carving in the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. The granite rock has markings that resemble a mastodon with a spear in its side. Confirmation that the markings are an ancient petroglyph will require more evidence.

Current excavations

Current excavations are going on annually at the Hiscock site in Byron, New York, for mastodon and related paleo-Indian artifacts. The site was discovered in 1959 by the Hiscock family while digging a pond with a backhoe; they found a large tusk and stopped digging. The Buffalo Museum of Science has organized the dig since 1983. It has been called one of the richest sites available for mastodon-related artifacts. The site sits on swampland that was covered by Lake Tonowanda, which was a glacier runoff lake formed over 10,000 years ago. It has been confirmed that mastodons would flock there to eat the sodium-rich clay during one of the last great droughts of the paleolithic.
mastodon in Breton: Mastodont
mastodon in Bulgarian: Мастодон
mastodon in Catalan: Mastodont
mastodon in Danish: Mastodont
mastodon in German: Mastodonten
mastodon in Modern Greek (1453-): Μαστόδοντας
mastodon in Spanish: Mammutidae
mastodon in French: Mastodonte
mastodon in Italian: Mammut (genere)
mastodon in Hebrew: מסטודון
mastodon in Georgian: მასტოდონტები
mastodon in Hungarian: Masztodonfélék
mastodon in Dutch: Mastodont
mastodon in Polish: Mastodonty
mastodon in Portuguese: Mastodonte
mastodon in Russian: Мастодонты
mastodon in Simple English: Mastodon
mastodon in Slovak: Mastodont
mastodon in Finnish: Mastodontit
mastodon in Swedish: Mastodont
mastodon in Vietnamese: Voi răng mấu
mastodon in Turkish: Mastudon
mastodon in Chinese: 乳齒象
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