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Extinct Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and Channel Island (M. exilis) Mammoths Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Extinct Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and Channel Island (M. exilis) Mammoths

How Do We Know This?

Careful study of fossil bone or tooth anatomy yields much
exact information about placement and strength of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves,
and blood vessels. In rare cases, skin and hair impressions or actual skin or hair remains.
Body weight is more difficult to gauge because fat leaves no impression on the skeleton.

Physical Characteristics

AttributeColumbian Mammoth
Channel Island Mammoth
Estimated Body Weight (Dudley 1999) 5,000-10,000 kg (5.5-11 tons) 200-500 kg (0.2-0.6 tons)
Body Length (Tassy and Shoshani 1996) 4-4.5 m (13-14.7 ft) 160-200 cm (5.2-6.6 ft)
Tail Length (Gillette & Madsen 1993)

1000 mm (39.8 in), intermediate between
tails of wooly mammoths & modern elephants


Shoulder Height (Roth 1996)

3.7-4.3 m (12-14 ft)

120-180 cm (3.9-5.9ft)

General Appearance

General description

  • Mammoths are medium to large-sized extinct elephants (Maglio 1973)
    • The Columbian Mammoth is possibly the largest mammoth
    • The Channel Island Dwarf Mammoth is the smallest mammoth; less than 50 percent the size of a Columbian.
    • One mammoth species, the Woolly Mammoth, has had its genome successfully sequenced (Krause et al 2006)
  • Mammoths seen from the side are highest at the shoulders, sloping rearward with a slightly humped profile (Haynes 1991)
    • Asian elephants do not have such a sharp slope rearward from the shoulders
    • African elephants have a dished (slightly slumped down) profile


  • All mammoths are identified primarily by features of their teeth
    • Thickness of enamel
    • Number of enamel loops in the molar teeth, seen from bite surface view (Laws 1966)
      • Columbian Mammoth molars have 5 to 8 enamel plates per 100 mm (3.9 in) (Maglio 1973)
      • Channel Island Mammoth molars are like the Columbian's, only smaller
  • Twenty six teeth in all
  • Six sets of teeth in a lifetime
  • Resemble Asian elephant teeth, with closed enamel loops viewed on chewing surface
  • All mammoths have strongly curved and twisted tusks (Lister 1996)
    • Tusks continue to grow throughout the mammoth's lifetime
    • Life history data is stored in the dentin's growth bands (season of death, age at sexual maturation, calving, migration) (Fox et al 2003)


  • Not known, but assumed like modern elephants, perhaps somewhat more hairy in colder climates
    • Unlike the wooly mammoth whose hair visible in many well-preserved frozen individuals

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Like all elephants, seen in several parts of the mammoth skeleton
    • Differences between males and females in pelvic, skull, and limb bones (Averianov 1996) (Haynes 1991)
    • Tusks of males longer and heavier than those of females (Shoshani 1996)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Mammoth's ears, known from individuals frozen in permafrost, smaller than those of African elephants
  • Tip of trunk ends with one finger-like process on top and a flap below (Shoshani 1996)
    • Somewhat like Asian elephants' and unlike African elephant trunk with "fingers" above and below
  • Musth gland on side of face
    • Unique for elephants, found in all living elephants and known from woolly mammoths preserved in permafrost
    • Assumed to have been present in elephant lineage for millions of years (Shoshani 1998)
    • Suggests social system for many extinct elephants similar to modern elephants
  • An unusually large brain compared to body size (Tassy & Shoshani 1996)
    • Similar to most primates
    • Skull is lightened with air sacs in the bone
  • Modifications in hyoid bones, tongue, and voice box allowed low frequency (infrasonic) communication (Shoshani 1998)
    • Appear in elephant lineage by at least 24 million years ago.
  • Channel Island Mammoths
    • Extreme genetic dwarfing (Dudley 1999)
    • Shortened lower limb bones relative to body size when compared to full size mammoths (Roth 1996)

Page Citations

Averianov (1996)
Dudley (1999)
Gillette & Madsen (1993)
Haynes (1991)
Krause et al. (2006)
Laws (1966)
Lister (1996)
Maglio (1973)
Roth (1984, 1996)
Tassy & Shoshani (1996)
Fox et al. (2003)

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