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Extinct Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and Channel Island (M. exilis) Mammoths Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

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

How Do We Know This?

Clues to fossil mammals' diets come from teeth, skull shape and the positions and strength of major jaw muscles, from fossilized dung and guts, from oxygen isotopes in bone and teeth, and from diets of similar modern animals.

Diet & Feeding

  • Opportunistic feeders like elephants, mammoths varied their food intake regionally and seasonally. In general, a mixed grazing and browsing diet (Koch et al 1988)
  • Mammoth dung deposits in two caves on Colorado Plateau contain pollen and plant fragments from mammoths' food (Agenbroad & Mead 1996).
    • Water sedges, pondweed, elderberry, snowberry, wild rose, raspberries, currants, spruce, sagebrush, water birch, oak, juniper, grasses, and prickly pear cactus
  • Carbon isotopes in skeleton of 20,000 year-old mammoths also give dietary clues to the types of plants consumed
    • At Rancho La Brea asphalt pits in southern California, no evidence of eating C-4 plants (warm-temperature grasses and other drought-resistant vegetation) (Coltrain et al 2004).
    • At a mammoth site in Waco, Texas, C-4 plants were a main component of the diet (Hoppe 2004)
    • In Florida mammoths ate mostly C-4 plants between 23,000 and 13,000 years ago (Koch et al 1998)
  • Mammoth's feeding habits may explain modern native plants' arsenal of toxic compounds (Dudley 1999)

Page Citations

Agenbroad & Mead (1996)
Coltrain et al. (2004)
Dudley (1999)
Fox et al. (1992)
Hoppe (2004)
Koch et al. (1988)

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