MASTODONS IN ANCIENT GRAY
These mastodons are the largest animals found at the Gray Fossil Site. Animals this big don’t just live in a habitat, they also re-shape the habitat by knocking over trees, clearing vegetation with their huge appetites, and dropping lots of poop that fertilizes new plant growth. Adult mastodons were so big that they would not have had many predators to worry about, but young mastodons probably stayed close to their mothers for safety. Many mastodons are fossilized at the Gray Fossil Site, which might be evidence that they lived in herds like modern-day elephants.
Many species of mastodons have lived in many different habitats in Earth’s past, but the Gray Fossil Site mastodons lived in a forest with warm temperatures and high levels of precipitation. This warm, wet climate made for a good habitat for the mastodons and the plants they ate.
One of the ways mastodons are different from mammoths is their diet. Mammoths are grazers, eating mostly grass, but mastodons are browsers, eating mostly leafy plants. The Gray Fossil Site was home to many species of plants, including oak, hickory, and pine trees. Being so big, mastodons need lots of food, but being very tall means they can reach leaves that most other animals can’t. A forest is a great place to find food and also shelter from weather and predators, even for a mastodon.
Mastodons belong to a group called proboscideans, which also includes mammoths and elephants. There are three species of elephants living today in the forests and grasslands of Africa and southern Asia. The living species are Asian elephants, African forest elephants, and African savanna elephants.
All living elephant species are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered. The elephants’ habitats are disappearing or changing as humans alter forests and grasslands to use for farming or construction. Elephants are also commonly hunted by poachers for their tusks or other body parts. Even big animals like elephants are at risk when they lose their homes, or when too many of them are hunted.
This video provides an overview of our scientists understanding of the extinct mastodons at the Gray Fossil Site.
Print or download the habitat worksheet below and use the text and video information on this page to answer all of the questions about your group's animal's habitat requirements. You will share this information with your class to try to reconstruct the habitat at the Gray Fossil Site when these animals lived there.