An elephant is a large land animal in the Elephantidae family, characterized by its long trunk, large ears, and pillar-like legs. Woolly mammoths were a type of elephant-like animal with long hair and large tusks. But while the pair share some features and characteristics, they also have several points of difference.
Continue reading to learn more about these fascinating mammals and the key factors that distinguish one from the other.
What do we know about the Elephant?
Elephants are an endangered mammal species that live in various regions of Africa and Asia. African elephants, the largest living elephant species, have larger ears to help them dispel excess heat and come in two main varieties: the bush elephant (which lives in the savannah) and the forest elephant. In comparison, Asian elephants have smaller ears and rounded backs; many scientists believe they are the woolly mammoth's closest living relative.
African Elephant Fact File
|Weight||6,000 kg / 6 tonnes|
|Habitats||Savannah, forest, marsh, or desert|
|Diet||Herbivore: feeds on grass and other plant matter|
|Number of Offspring||One calf every 4-5 years|
|Gestation Period||22 months|
|Social order||Elephants form complex societies of calves and females, which are led by the matriarch. Males leave the herd during puberty to live alone or within a small bachelor group|
What do we know about the Mammoth?
When we think of mammoths, we often picture woolly mammoths, perhaps the most famous of the bunch. But in actual fact, there were multiple species that first appeared around five million years ago and lived as recently as 4,000 years ago. Scientists have compiled a list of ten recognized species - including the woolly, pygmy, and southern mammoths - though research is ongoing.
Woolly Mammoth Fact File
|Weight||10,000 kg / 10 tonnes|
|Habitats||Steppe tundra, savannah/grasslands, forests|
|Diet||Herbivore: fed on grass, shrubs, tress, cacti, flowers, and other vegetation (depending on location)|
|Number of Offspring||One calf at a time|
|Gestation Period||22 months|
|Social order||A mammoth society would likely have been similar to today’s elephants, with a herd of calves and females, led by the matriarch. Each group would contain between 15 and 20 members.|
Differences Between Elephants and Woolly Mammoths
Elephants and mammoths belong to the same order, Elephantidae - the animals are cousins rather than descendants. Both are herbivores with a gentle temperament and possess a history of human interactions.
The most significant difference between these two mammals is that the woolly mammoth is long extinct. Still, when they were alive, they were far larger and covered a more vast territory than today's elephants. Here are the key differences between the two.
Mammoths Are Extinct
Studies suggest that some species of mammoth were around up to five million years ago. Still, the last surviving members of the species died about 4,000 years ago when rising temperatures forced them from their natural habitats to areas where they were not adapted to survive. In addition, a growing number of humans hunted these majestic creatures.
Eventually, these challenges became too big to overcome, and the last mammoths died. Today, their cousin, the elephant, faces the same issues around an evolving climate and increased human activity, causing their numbers to dwindle. Currently, Asian, and African bush elephants are endangered, while African forest elephants are critically endangered. That's why we must work together to save the elephants.
Mammoths Were Significantly Larger Than Elephants
If you placed a mammoth next to an elephant, you'd be able to tell the difference as these prehistoric relatives were far larger than today's elephants and could weigh up to 10 tonnes; some could have reached weights of more than 14 tonnes! Still, you needed more than size to differentiate these mammals, as there was a lot of overlap between different species.
Not only were mammoths heavier, but they also possessed much longer tusks which were more twisted than the relatively smooth tusks we see on today's elephants. The average elephant has tusks that measure around six feet; the longest tusk on record was 11 feet and 5 inches. But these still pale compared to the mammoth, whose tusks could reach lengths of 16 feet.
Mammoths used these tusks to dig the ground, rub bark off trees, and fight. And we can tell a mammoth's age by examining the tusk's rings. Each ring represents one year, and the depth of the ring tells us how healthy they were. For example, a thick ring suggests they had a healthy year in which food supplies were plentiful.
Differences in Physical Appearance
The woolly mammoth was bulkier than today's elephant and possessed several other physical characteristics that differentiate the two species. For starters, the woolly mammoth had a thick fur coat to keep it warm in cold, icy environments. If you look at an elephant, you mightn't think they even have fur. They do - but only in very thin layers; hence why they live in hotter environments such as deserts and savannas.
In addition, mammoths had humps on their backs, which scientists believe may have been extra fat stores to keep the mammoth nourished when food supplies were scarce. Mammoths had more prominent foreheads than their cousins but significantly smaller ears. If they had ears the size of an African elephant, they would have been far more susceptible to frostbite because of their cold environments.