What did mammoths eat?

In this brief guide, we’ll address the query: “What did mammoths eat?” Also, we’ll explore how we’ve been able to discern what mammoths ate, where mammoths have been excavated, why mammoths no longer walk the earth, and what role mammoths played in their environment. 

What did mammoths eat? 

Mammoth diets consisted of grass. Most specimens that have been found relatively intact underneath permafrost and in other conserving agents such as tar have been found with the remains of grass in their digestive systems. 

Furthermore, their anatomy, specifically, the disposition and shape of their molars, suggests that their diet consisted exclusively of leafy greens which are most abundant and easily come by in grass. 

Their anatomy also suggests that they had a voluminous stomach cavity, ideal for fermenting grass with the help of microbes, to reap more nutritious benefits from it. 

Their microbiome was essential to this function and shaping it at an early age was essential to the survival of young mammoths, who are theorized to have ingested their mother’s waste as a means of receiving the microbial inoculums. 

How can we know what mammoths ate? 

Paleontologists have many tools at their disposal, which they can use to not only know what mammoths ate, but how old they are, what substances they were exposed to, and what they may have resembled when they were living. 

Luckily, some mammoths have been found preserved in near-perfect conditions beneath frigid, icy layers of permafrost. These specimens can not only provide a near-living example of what mammals resembled, but they can also provide DNA, and other organic components that scientists can analyze using analytical chemistry techniques. 

For example, they can analyze a mammoth’s hair using biochemical forms of analysis, and they can determine what substances, such as secondary plant metabolites, were present in a mammoth’s fatty tissues. 

Analyzing fossilized dung, both in and out of their digestive systems, provides important information regarding their diet, and what microorganisms were present in their digestive tract. 

Other types of analysis are also available, such as DNA testing, which can establish the relationships and bloodlines between groups and different individuals found fossilized together. 

Also, analyzing their bones provide paleontologists with clues, such as if they suffered bone degenerative disorders, or if they were hunted and wounded, leaving impressions on their bones. DNA can also be sourced from the preserved marrows of mammoth bones. 

Where have mammoths been excavated? 

Mammoths have been excavated in many countries around the world. Countries where mammoths have been unearthed include Canada, the United States, Mexico, Russia, Costa Rica, China, Spain, and many others. 

It’s important to note that mammoths lived in times when there were no borders, and continents may have been differently distributed and connected (due to glacial periods) than how we recognize them today, and some of the oldest species can therefore appear in Africa and South America.  

Scientists have, however, elaborated timelines that establish the emergence of mammoths’ first species, and the latter ones that survived well into a period when the construction of the great pyramids was already underway. 

Scientists use carbon dating; a technique that analyzes the decomposition of the carbon-14 isotope to extrapolate the age of fossils and can then provide an estimate as to when they walked the earth. 

Why did mammoths go extinct? 

Many theories attempt to explain precisely why mammoths went extinct, and while many scientists agree that a combination of hostile factors made their populations decline; there seems to be a consensus on elevating temperatures, melting glaciers, and rising oceans being the main culprit

The rise of oceans and sudden flooding of many basins had devastating effects on grasslands–which mammoths depended on to source their nourishment from. 

In short, the environment changed rapidly, before they could adapt and their numbers suffered severe declines, as a result of the shortage of pastures. 

Coupled with other adverse environmental conditions such as the rise of Homo sapiens, mammoths sadly became extinct. 

What role did mammoths play in their environment? 

Mammoths were grazing animals, of tremendous size and strength. As a result, scientists theorize that they were capable of shaping their environments to discourage the establishment and growth of woody species and favor the presence of grass. 

Some scientists have theorized that reviving mammoths could help cool climate change, as they could revert some landscapes into environments that emit fewer greenhouse gasses, but this is theoretical, and as of 2022, no scientists have had breakthroughs in reviving mammoths. 

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we have addressed the query: “What did mammoths eat?” Also, we’ve explored how we’ve been able to discern what mammoths ate, where mammoths have been excavated, why mammoths no longer walk the earth, and what role mammoths played in their environment. 

References 

https://www.npr.org/transcripts/14799212

https://science.psu.edu/news/hair-untangles-woolly-mammoth-puzzle

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070927141921.htm

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/can-bringing-back-mammoths-stop-climate-change-180969072/#:~:text=Mammoths%20and%20other%20large%20herbivores,grasses%2C%20herbs%20and%20no%20trees.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211020135914.htm#:~:text=Now%20the%20hotly%20debated%20question,%2D%2D%20was%20practically%20wiped%20out.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/woolly-mammoth-diet-mystery-solved-by-dna-analysis-1.2524015

https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/what-did-the-woolly-mammoth-eat/

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