Lucy’s Monstrous Misfits II: Upside-Down Mastodon

Dr. Bakker’s series on Lucy continues below. Check out  Part 1: Lucy – Out of Africa. Not! and Part 2: Lucy’s Monstrous Misfits: The Moose-Giraffe.

Why did some of Lucy’s neighbors score big bio-geographical successes, spreading over many continents?

Three More Cases: Hairy Monsters With Tusks & Trunks

Elephant bull 2
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Tambako the Jaguar (on the sea)

The Order Proboscidea includes all elephant and elephant kin – large to giant to super-giant herbivores with long upper lips transformed into trunks, plus long tusks. Tusks can sprout from the upper jaw or the lower jaw or both jaws.

Regular Short-Tusked Mastodons – “The Ohio Incognitum”

Regular Mastodons were the first fossil Proboscidea to be discovered – way back in the early 1700’s.  The legs looked like elephants’. The teeth looked like giant pig teeth.  Explorers in the Ohio Valley called the monster the “Unknown  Creature (Incognitum) from Ohio.” Formal name: Mammut.

By the late 1700’s full skeletons showed the whole beast – it was very like an elephant but shorter with a low forehead and short, stout upper tusks.  Lucy lived with Regular Mastodons who were very close to the Ohio Beast.

Regular Mastodons – The Long-Tuskers (Anancines)

DeinoAnancine copyLiving side by side with the Ohio Regulars in Lucy’s Africa was a close relative: The Long-Tusked Regulars. Technical name: the Anancine mastodons. In the Anancines, the super-long tusks stuck out so far we’d expect the beast to trip itself if it ran fast.

Upside Down Mastodon.

Now for the maximum weirdness among proboscideans: the Deinotheres.  Large to super large, Deinotheres had a long, long history in Africa, beginning way before Lucy or any other australopithecine. Body was elephantine – but the feet were small, with tiny side toes and three big ones in the middle.

The astonishing feature was the curved tusks. They were upside down. Instead of being in the upper jaw and curving up, the way they did in all normal mastodons, Deinothere tusks curved down and were in the lower jaw.

What good were upside-down tusks?

Old-timer scientists speculated:

“Maybe they hauled themselves out onto ice flows, like walruses do.”

Wrong. Deinotheres never lived in cold regions.

“Maybe they killed their prey with a downward jab.”

Wrong.  Deinothere molars were vegetable choppers, designed to munch big leaves and branches. All deinotheres were vegetarian.

“Maybe they used the tusks to cash down onto branches to break them off.”  “Maybe they fought each other in the mating season.”

Maybe.

World MapDeino

As global travelers, Deinotheres are intriguing. They were like hippos. Deinotheres spread over Europe and India and China. But they never conquered Siberia and never entered the New World, via the Bering Land Bridge.

Makes you think……

Why?

Looking Back…

In case you were wondering about notable science events that occurred the week of July 4th…

ET christmas 2004
Creative Commons License photo credit: Lathyrus

Ready for the clone wars? On July 5th, 1996, Dolly the sheep was born. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell. Dolly lived her entire life at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. She had six lambs of her own, and lived to the age of six.

ET phone home… On July 6th, 2003, a message was sent out to five different stars. The message, Cosmic Call 2, was broadcasted from Eupatoria, a 70-meter radar. The message was sent to the stars Hip 4872, HD 245409, 55 Cancri, HD 10307, and 47 Ursae Majoris. The message should reach its destination in 2036, 2040, 2044, 2044, and 2049 respectively. Talk about your long distance phone calls.

Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. On July 10, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, the Scopes Trial began. John T. Scopes, a high school teacher, was accused of teaching evolution in the classroom in violation of Tennessee law.

Raw DNA Image
Creative Commons License photo credit: MASH DnArt

The law, which passed in January of 1925, stated that it was illegal for anyone to teach anything but the story of Divine Creation of man. After an eight day trial, Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and fined 100 dollars (approximately 1,165 dollars in today’s currency.)

On July 10, 1997, London scientists report their DNA analysis of a Neandertal skeleton, nicknamed African Eve, found in modern day Ethiopia. The results place her life at roughly 140,000 years ago, which supports the Out of Africa Theory. This theory states that all our ancestors originally came from Africa. An alternative theory is the Multiregional Origin Theory, which states that our ancestors developed independantly in different regions of the world.