Monday, August 13, 2012

ABC Wednesday: E is for Elephant Evolution

How are mammoths and mastodons related to elephants?

For this post I decided to do a double "E": elephant evolution.  Remember, if you have a favorite science subject, please let me know!

Many people believe that elephants descended from mammoths or mastodons.  This isn't true.  Elephants lived right along side mammoths and mastodons in different parts of the world for over four million years.

The family tree of mammoth, mastodons and Asian and African elephants.  In science, such a family tree is called a phylogenetic tree.  The different points where they branch off from each other are the points where they have a common ancestor.  Image from Reed College.
Mastodons are actually very different from mammoths and other elephants.  They are only distantly related.  Mastodons look like mammoths because they're big and hairy, but they're different in many important ways.  One of these are their teeth.

Mastodon teeth (left) and mammoth teeth (right.)  Mammoth teeth are almost identical to elephant teeth.  Both elephant teeth and mammoth teeth are very different from mastodon teeth.  From Kansas Geological Survey.
So mammoths and elephants are very closely related, but mastodons are only distantly related to both.

Recent research on mammoth DNA has also shown that mammoths are much more closely related to Asian elephants than African elephants.  

But all three - mammoths, Asian elephants and African elephants - walked the earth at the same time.  They're not descended from one another, but they all share common ancestors.


So that was "E" on animals for photowannabe.  Next week: "F" on astronomy for PhenoMenon.


  1. And yet all I can think about Elephant Talk by King Crimson. And that I saw the Cohoes mastodon at the state museum this weekend.

  2. Oh how cool. I love this site - I always come away knowing a bit more! Thanks. Have a great week and I look forward to "F."

  3. That little elephant is so cute. Thank you for all of the information.
    I saw elephants in Kenya. It was a favorite memory for me.

  4. Amazing how teeth shape and size assure that these great creatures are distinctly different! Fascinating post!

  5. Wow such an interesting correlation.

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  6. Fascinating!! I think elephants are magnificent creatures. Their family unit behavior is amazing.

  7. Great shot of an elephant ~ awesome ~ Perfect for ABC ~ (A Creative Harbor)

    always good to have you 'visit' ^_^

  8. Very interesting post. I love the first shot of the elephant in the tall grasses. Carver, ABC-W Team

  9. I found this information very interesting.....I learned something new today....thanx