Mounted specimen on display at the America Museum of Natural History, NYC

Reconstruction by Charles Knight. 

When: Miocene to Pliocene (~12 - 3.5 million years ago)

Where: North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa 

What: Gomphotherium is a four tusked extinct proboscidean. Unlike modern elephants which only have enlarged upper incisors as their tusks, Gomphotherium and its kin had enlarged upper and lower incisors. Neither set of tusks grew as large as living elephants, but the lower jaw was heavily modified and elongated to support the lower tusks. If you look at the photograph of the mounted specimen above, you can see that the actual bone of the mandible extends to almost the tip of the upper tusk. Based on the structure of the skull of Gomphotheriumit is thought the animal had a trunk, though again not one as log as the living species of elephants. Gomphotheriumis on the small side compared to the mammoth and mastodon in the photo with it, and also is a bit smaller than the living african elephant, but about the same size as the asian elephant - standing about 10 ft (3.2 meters) tall at the shoulder. These fourtuskers were proportioned very differently from the asian elephant, however. Their legs were much shorter in proportion to their body. The genus Gomphotheriumoriginated in North America, but spread throughout most of the world before going extinct in the Pliocene.  

Gomphotheriumin the group Gomphotheriidae (shocking I know). Gomphotheres ranged almost world-wide for over ten million years, and it is possible the last one died less than 10,000 years ago. I say only possible as relationships of gomphotheres, and really proboscideans as a whole, are really not well understood. Gomphotheriidae may be a paraphyletic series of taxa (not a ‘real’ group), with some taxa more closely related to the living species than others. Basically if you are interested in paleontology the study of proboscideans is an area that desperately needs more people in it. You also get to look at other cool extinct forms like Deinotherium

Record-sized African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) — presumably around 4 meters/13 feet at the shoulder — a Steppe Mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii) and Paraceratherium… which was actually around the same size as the mammoth.

Wood, G. (1982) The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Third Edition.
Elephants know what it means to point to something, no training required

External image

Oct. 10, 2013 — When people want to direct the attention of others, they naturally do so by pointing, starting from a very young age. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on October 10 have shown that elephants spontaneously get the gist of human pointing and can use it as a cue for finding food. That’s all the more impressive given that many great apes fail to understand pointing when it’s done for them by human caretakers, the researchers say.

“By showing that African elephants spontaneously understand human pointing, without any training to do so, we have shown that the ability to understand pointing is not uniquely human but has also evolved in a lineage of animal very remote from the primates,” says Richard Byrne of the University of St Andrews, noting that elephants are part of an ancient African radiation of animals, including the hyrax, golden mole, aardvark, and manatee. “What elephants share with humans is that they live in an elaborate and complex network in which support, empathy, and help for others are critical for survival. It may be only in such a society that the ability to follow pointing has adaptive value, or, more generally, elephant society may have selected for an ability to understand when others are trying to communicate with them, and they are thus able to work out what pointing is about when they see it.

jesus-lizard-journal asked:

Can you tell us a little bit about weird elephant relatives?

I can tell you a lot about weird elephant relatives.

(Image by Yathin S. Krishnappa)

The two extant genera of elephants - Elephas (the Asian elephants) and Loxodonta (the African elephants) - are the only living representatives of the order Proboscidea.  Their closest living relatives are the members of the order Sirenia - manatees and dugongs - and the two groups are believed to have shared a common ancestor.

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