Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bull Mastodons In Deadly Combat; Sound And Fury From Silent Bones

Date:
October 17, 2003
Source:
University Of Michigan
Summary:
The American mastodon, a massive, tusk-bearing relative of elephants, inhabited much of North America until its extinction just 10,000 years ago. Strictly plant-eaters, mastodons are often portrayed browsing peacefully on vegetation or lumbering around in small family groups. But mastodons may have had an aggressive side as well.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The American mastodon, a massive, tusk-bearing relative of elephants, inhabited much of North America until its extinction just 10,000 years ago. Strictly plant-eaters, mastodons are often portrayed browsing peacefully on vegetation or lumbering around in small family groups. But mastodons may have had an aggressive side as well.

New studies of bone damage on fossil remains of mature mastodon males---aided by 3-D computer graphics---indicate that some died of wounds inflicted by the tusks of other males. University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher will discuss the results at a news conference Oct. 16 during the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in St. Paul, Minn.

The most telltale evidence for mortal combat among male mastodons consists of areas of crushed skull bone, typically on one side only, behind the eye and under the cheek region. Inflicting bone damage in this location would have required a tusk to penetrate tough hide and nearly 20 inches of muscle, causing extensive blood loss and trauma to the muscles used for chewing. The same skeletons bear other signs of damage, such as crushed vertebrae, suggesting paralyzing blows to the back.

Weighing six tons or more, an adult male mastodon would have been no pushover. "Their skeletal structure suggests even greater strength than we see in elephants today," said Fisher, "and their tusks could have inflicted enormous damage."

In addition to impact damage on skulls and vertebrae, clues that mastodons used their tusks as weapons can been seen in tusk sockets. In life, the animal's tusks were held in place by ligament fibers embedded in the inner wall of the socket. These fibers decomposed long ago, but pits in the socket wall still show where they attached and how large they were. In mature males, the upper edge of the socket shows signs of greatly enlarged fibers, forming an effective shock absorber exactly in the position needed to deal with impact on the upturned tusk tip.

"A shock absorber in this position would not have been needed for ramming straight ahead with the tusks or for tusk use during feeding," Fisher said, "but it would have helped if the animal was sweeping its head forcefully upward, thrusting its tusk tip into an opponent."

One problem in figuring out how bull mastodons fought is that their tusks are spirally curved and usually found separate from skulls. This makes it difficult to visualize accurately the three-dimensional movements of tusks and skulls of both opponents. Fisher used 3-D digital models of mastodons, manipulated on a computer, to "try out" various fighting styles.

"This is one place where computer graphics gives us more than just a fancy display," said Fisher. "The consistency of placement of the damage on skulls suggested some stereotyped fighting behavior, but before working with the models, it wasn't clear how you could get a tusk tip into the right position to produce the damage we saw."

Understanding the behavior of male mastodons helps in assembling a broad picture of the ecology of these animals. Scientists still debate the causes of mastodon extinction, along with that of mammoths (another relative of elephants) and many other large mammals at the end of the Ice Age. "Climate change, disease and hunting by humans are all possible factors," Fisher said, "but conflict between adult males needs to be recognized as part of the ongoing background with which other causes of mortality should be compared."

###

For more information:

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology---http://www.vertpaleo.org/

Daniel Fisher---http://www.geo.lsa.umich.edu/dept/faculty/fisher/index.html

Mastodons---http://www.scsc.k12.ar.us/2000backeast/ENatHist/Members/SchullerL/Default.htm


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Michigan. "Bull Mastodons In Deadly Combat; Sound And Fury From Silent Bones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031017072919.htm>.
University Of Michigan. (2003, October 17). Bull Mastodons In Deadly Combat; Sound And Fury From Silent Bones. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031017072919.htm
University Of Michigan. "Bull Mastodons In Deadly Combat; Sound And Fury From Silent Bones." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031017072919.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) — As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Spinosaurus Could Be First Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — New research has shown that the Spinosaurus, the largest carnivorous dinosaur, might have been just as well suited for life in the water as on land. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

Meet Spinosaurus, the First-Known Water Dinosaur

AFP (Sep. 11, 2014) — Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was adapted for both land and water, and an exhibit featuring a life-sized model, based on new fossils unearthed in eastern Morocco, opens at the National Geographic Museum in Washington on Friday. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins