Fossil Friday – mastodon skull

DSCN5560Today is World Elephant Day, recognizing the conservation difficulties faced by the surviving species of elephants. Last week, with Katy Smith’s visit to WSC to examine mastodons and Bernard Means’ visit to 3D-scan some of our specimens,  as well as needing more data for the Mastodons of Unusual Size Project, we had the opportunity and motivation to open a lot of mastodon jackets that have remained unexamined for years. This confluence of events make an excellent excuse for featuring another mastodon for today’s Fossil Friday.It turns out that, as much as I’ve touted the mastodon collection at WSC, it’s even better than I had realized. Shown above is one of several partial skulls we examined last week. The skull is oriented ventral up, so the palate side is visible; the lower jaw is not preserved. Anterior is to the top of the image. The two large tusks are essentially complete, as is the ventral side of the premaxillary bone that supports them. A small portion of the maxilla is preserved, which includes both upper second molars and the anterior portions of the third molars, which are more clear in the image below:

IMG_4099

The proximal end of one femur is also preserved; it’s the lump of bone in the foreground.

The most notable thing about this skull is the black coloring over much of the surface, including almost all of the left tusk. It appears that this specimen was burned, almost certainly after death. We see this in a fair number of bones from Diamond Valley Lake, but it’s the first time we’ve noted it in a mastodon, leading our Marketing Specialist Brittney Stoneburg to nickname this specimen “Blaze”.

Blaze is missing most of his third molars, but his second molars are intact and we were able to get measurements for the Mastodons of Unusual Size Project. Katy was also able to get measurements for her studies on mastodon tusks (and, based on the size of the tusks, Blaze was almost certainly a male). Blaze’s second molars were heavily worn, and the anterior portions of his third molars were in wear, suggesting that he was close to the same age as Max when he died, perhaps in his mid-30s.

Today on World Elephant Day, help support elephant conservation by visiting or donating to a museum, zoo, or conservation group that furthers our knowledge and protection of these amazing animals.

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