There are three species of living Elephants (Order Proboscidea): the African bush elephant
(Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (L. cyclotis), and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). DNA tests conducted in 2001 confirmed that the two African species are genetically distinct and probably diverged about 2.6 million years ago. Elephas evolved in Africa but migrated to Eurasia around the same time. Asian elephants are smaller, with humped or rounded backs, smaller ears, and one finger instead of two on the tip of the trunk.
The African bush elephant is the largest known living terrestrial animal. The average adult male stands 9 feet 10 inches—12 feet 2 inches at the shoulder and weighs 4.4—7.7 tons. The largest specimen on record had a shoulder height of 13 feet and an estimated weight of 13.5 tons; it was shot in Angola on November 7, 1974.
Though elephants are best known for their elongated trunks, their earliest ancestors completely lacked them. The hippo-sized Moeritherium of the Late Eocene (35 million years ago) had nasal bones placed far forward on its face, indicating a lack of large muscles necessary for a trunk. The identifying characteristics of proboscideans are much less obvious and involve particular skull and shoulder-blade features, teeth with unique cusps, hind feet with a specific ankle formation, and wrists with serial bone arrangement. The earliest was Phos-phatherium, which weighed about 33 pounds and stood 2 feet at the shoulder. Proboscideans first evolved, probably in North Africa, near the end of the Paleocene, 55 million years ago, from primitive hoofed mammals called condylarths.
The best-known extinct proboscideans are mastodons and mammoths, which were contemporaneous in North America for about 4 million years in the Pliocene and Pleistocene. American Mastodons (Family Mammutidae) were browsers that split off from the elephant family tree in the Oligocene, nearly 30 million years ago, while the Mammoths (Family Elephanti-dae) were grazers with a slender build; a taller skull; inwardly-curving tusks that projected well below the horizontal; and flat, ridged teeth.
Mammoths died out relatively recently at the end of the Pleistocene in both Eurasia and North America. They are featured in about 400
162 elephant-dung bat cave paintings in Europe; in Ukraine, archaeologists have discovered dwellings constructed partially from mammoth bones and tusks. In North America, there is considerable evidence that the Paleo-Indians hunted or scavenged mammoths as recently as 10,000 years ago. Folk traditions of these interactions may be preserved in myths of the Mam antj in Siberia and China and the Stff-Legged Bear in North America. Another group of proboscideans, the gom-photheres, may have lingered in Southeast Asia and provided inspiration for the Makara.
The Beast of Bardia, the Pygmy Elephant and the Thai Mammoth could represent new species or distinct variations in known forms.
Beastof Bardia; Makara; Mamantj; Pink-Tusked Elephant; Pygmy Elephant; Stiff-Legged Bear; Thai Mammoth
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