These animals inhabited different environmental systems called habitats. Mastodons, may have lived along forest edges and swamps. Their diet was leafy, such as cattails, red maple, elderberry, coastal willow and gourd/squash. Their teeth were humped up to break up twigs mixed in with the leaves. James Dunbar, an archaeologist from north Florida, actually allowed us to touch some mastodon manure that was brought up from the Aucilla River site.
Mammoths grazed in grasslands, as well as, the bordering pinelands and scrublands. Their teeth were like scrub-boards about the size of a football. They were ground smooth by the sand that they took in with the grass. Mammoths wore out about eight sets of teeth during a lifetime.
Mother Mastodon’s Story
I stood in her shadow. In the grass at her feet lay her baby. Its long, rust-colored hair stood out in almost comical irony to its final struggle. The struggle was hers now. The other cows mulled around her throughout the night. They were restless and tense, the river twisted just out of reach. The smell of large predators smudged the air heavy with humidity. They had guarded her all night. Their snorts warned all that they would fight for this mother and her downed calf. But, as the sun climbed the sky, their resolve evaporated with the dew. The smell of death hung over the little body.
Bunched together, a hundred yards to the north, the cows shifted from leg to leg. Trunk outstretched, the mother sent little pleading trumpets in their direction. They turned to face the distant line of trees.
Her trunk snaked back and forth around her tusks in a futile gesture. Then, hooking it under her baby’s little body and using her front right foot, she tried to lift it to its feet. The baby mammoth rolled, its open eyes had lost the glow of life. Its funny little trunk flopped. The mother trumpeted out her frustration and adjusted herself so that her calf was in her shade.
Several black vultures took up their vigil in the bleached wooden skeleton of a near by pine. Scavenging storks drifted in on out stretched wings. Noisy fighting broke out over their pecking order.
Running toward them, the mother roared at their callous indifference to her pain. The birds on the ground scattered, some leapt back into the air. The black vultures, safe on their branch on the dead tree, just hunkered forward.
Returning, she tried again to lift her baby. The oldest cow moved toward the river. The others followed. The mother watched them go. After awhile she could hear them in the water. She shifted. From the tree-line shadows came the rhythmic pulse of cicadas. Yellow crowns of goldenrod caught the sun’s rich glow as it dropped in the west. Crystal heads of the tall lop-seed grass gleamed brassy in the last light. The trees grew black.
She lived in a world of dire-wolves, giant short-faced bears, and lions. Without the protection of the herd, she would be vulnerable. She walked around the little body. The sun touched the horizon. Above it, dark violet clouds flamed orange and peach along their torn edge. Night hawks swept by on silent wings, cutting back and forth in their swift hunt for flying insects. A mole-cricket took up its chirring song in the shadows of the grass.
The mother walked away about a hundred feet and looked back. The vultures shifted on their branch. She returned to touch her baby one last time, then turned and walked off to find the safety of the herd. The first stars sparkled in the fading sky. For the vultures, storks, and a lucky fox, it would be a good night.
I was nine years old when I found my first fossils in a road construction site where US 19 or 34th Street S. is today in St. Petersburg. They took me on lots of adventures over the years. Turned out this fossil I found back then is a toe-bone from a mammoth. It had been used as a grinding tool by an ancient American.