Who doesn't love dinosaurs? ...If you've got your hand up, put it down and run away - this isn't the article for you.
I love dinosaurs and all things adjacent to them, so when I came across an article yesterday that detailed the life and death of a male mastodon from about 13,200 years ago I had to pause to give it a read. Researchers studied the chemical composition of its tusks and were able to determine that the mastodon grew up in the Great Lakes area and made annual trips to a mating ground in northeastern Indiana - until it died there at age 34 after another mastodon stabbed it in the face.
Mastodons - also known as Mammut americanum - were proboscideans that roamed North America before they went extinct around 11,000 years ago. Their migration patterns have previously been investigated by examining the isotopes locked away in their tooth enamel. Most recently, however, an investigation of one mastodon's right tusk revealed in detail how male mastodons' movements would change as he matured.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the team's research focuses on the study of the Buesching mastodon, named for the family who owns the land on which it was found. Its nickname, Fred, is also named after someone in the Buesching family, who donated the specimen to the Indiana State Museum.
Fred's tusk is over 9.5 feet long and holds the details of his travels from over 13,000 years ago. Isotopes of elements like oxygen and strontium have natural abundances that differ across time and location. Because these elements end up in soils and waterways, living things consume them, thus offering researchers a way of tracking the movements of ancient beings. Because mastodon tusks are really just elongated teeth, the same scientific effects can be applied to them as well.
The research team was able to determine that Fred began to roam the Great Lakes area when he was separated from his herd at 12 years old. Interestingly, there are many elephant herds today that are matriarchal - researchers suspect that mastodon herds may have also operated the same way. Fred died nearly 100 miles from his home territory, which indicates the large range of an 8-ton adult mastodon.
This research is particularly interesting because before now, researchers knew next to nothing about how individual extinct animals interacted with their environments seasonally. Male mastodons would attempt to find mates in the spring, hence how Fred ended up in what is today northeastern Indiana. Researcher Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, said that even if a fight between male mastodons wasn't fatal, their tusks would basically twist in their sockets from the impacts, which would stunt the growth of nascent cells at the tusks' base.
The team found that Fred returned to the same place annually for the remainder of his 34-year life. They also confirmed that he never ventured into that region before adulthood, which further serves the evidence that the area in which his bones were found is a former mating ground.
The complete article on the discovery can be found here.
Researchers intend to study isotopes within other tusks to get a more complete picture. Pretty cool, right? Let me know your thoughts!