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The Nature Preserve will be CLOSED on Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 24, 25 and 26 for Thanksgiving.

Mammoth vs Mastodon

Posted on October 25th, 2022 by Harnawaz Boparai

October 12 was National Fossil Day. The Cache Creek Nature Preserve has local fossils in our Visitor Center, which is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon. Our display includes some unidentified fossils and some ideas of which animals they may be.

One fossil we know we have is “Pedro” (named after the person who found it). It is part of the hip of a Columbian mammoth.

Imagine you could travel back in time to 14,000 years ago here at Cache Creek. Back then it was the Ice Age, and the standard of what large wildlife was very different from today. There were ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, camels, dire wolves, and of course mammoths… or mastodons… or perhaps both? YES! 

How different were Mastodons and Mammoths?

Both mammoths and mastodons lived here at Cache Creek during the Ice Age. At first glance both seem to be the same thing, hairy elephants. But if we look more closely at their bones, and what they did in their environment; you will find that the two were very different animals. 

Columbian Mammoth on the left, and American Mastodon on the right. Image Credit: Bednarik 2015.

The first difference is their sizes. Mastodons stood about 2.5 meters tall at the shoulder while mammoths stood over 3 meters tall at the shoulder. Average weight for a Mammoth would be 9 tons; while the average weight for a Mastodon would be 6.5 tons. 

The next major difference is their teeth! Mammoth teeth are very similar to modern-day elephants having ridged molars to graze on plants like herbs and grasses. Mastodon teeth are quite different having cusped molars for feeding on leaves, twigs, and mosses. 

A woman holds a fossil mastodon tooth in one hand and a mammoth tooth in the other hand.
Fossilized teeth is one way to tell the difference between a mastodon and a mammoth. Image Credit: U.S. National Park Service.

The last difference between Mastodons and Mammoths was what habitat they liked to live in. Mammoths preferred more open habitat to graze on the grasses and herb-like vegetation. Mastodons preferred wet forests to get the woody plant material they liked to eat. 

Cache Creek was home to the Columbian Mammoth and the American Mastodon until the end of the Ice Age which ended about 10,000 years ago. Fossils of both animals have been found in several spots in Cache Creek; some of which are on display at our visitor center.

The Cache Creek Nature Preserve’s Visitor Center is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon.

Sources:

Mastodon or Mammoth? (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Mammoth vs Mastodon – Difference and Comparison | Diffen

Science at the Library: Ice Age Megafauna in Fremont – BayAreaScience.org

The Bay Area During the Ice Age (Think Saber-Tooth Cats and Mammoths) | KQED

Mammoths and Mastodons: All American Monsters | Science| Smithsonian Magazine

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