Elephants and a Mammoth

African Bush and Asian Elephants

The African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the heaviest land mammal, and the second tallest in the Animal Kingdom. With 15% of total body weight in the bones, an elephant’s skeleton is massive. Individuals continue to grow throughout their lives. Typically males stand about 12 feet (3.6 m) at the shoulder. This male elephant may have weighed as much as about 13,200 pounds (6,000 kg).

African Bush Elephants may eat up to 660 pounds (300 kg) of vegetation and drink 50 gallons (190 liters) of water a day. To get food, elephants often tear bushes and trees apart or push them over. Humans are the only predators of adult elephants, but calves are sometimes snatched away by lions and hyenas.

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximas sumatranus) on exhibit at the MSU Museum is from Sumatra in western Indonesia. According to Museum records, it was first displayed sometime between 1861-1909, when the MSU Museum was called the “State Agriculture College Museum.” There are three Asian Elephant subspecies: Elephas maximas maximus from the island of Sri Lanka, Elephas maximas indicus from mainland Asia, and Elephas maximas sumatranus from the island of Sumatra. The skull displayed on the east side of the Hall is from mainland Asia.

Columbian Mammoth

Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) were slightly larger than today’s elephants with far longer tusks: up to 16 feet (nearly 5 meters) long. They survived cold temperatures with the help of extra fat stores and hairy coats. This fossilized mammoth skull was collected in 1971 in Trego County, Kansas. It is estimated to be about half a million years old.

Looking at teeth can tell us about the diet and life of an animal. Did you know that tusks are teeth? These modified teeth are not used for chewing or biting but for gathering food, downing trees, attracting mates, intimidating rivals and fighting. Comparing the teeth of the elephant and the mammoth suggests similar diets. The ridges are used for grinding plant material. Elephants have six sets of teeth over their lifetime. Only one or two sets are present in the jaw at one time. As the teeth wear down, they break off at the front end and are replaced from behind. Old elephants often die of hunger after the sixth set of teeth is worn down.

Winged Jewels: A Rainbow of Diversity

Rainbow shaped display of colorful butterflies and moths, arranged from smallest to largest

Is that a butterfly or a moth? Butterflies tend to be colorful, have long, thin antennae that are club-shaped at the end, and have slender, smoother bodies. They usually fly during the day and fold their wings vertically over their body at rest. Moths are usually less colorful, have feathery or slender antennae with no club on the end, and have stout, furry-looking bodies. They usually fly at night and fold their wings horizontally along their body at rest.

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