Phonetic: Mam-mu-fus ko-lum-be.
Named By: Hugh Falconer - 1857.
Synonyms: Elephas maibeni, Elephas washingtonii, Mammuthus jeffersonii, Parelephas eellsi, Parelephas floridanus, Parelephas jacksoni, Parelephas progressus, Parelephas roosevelti.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Proboscidea, Elephantidae, Mammuthus.
Species: M. columbi.
Size: Up to 4 meters tall at the shoulder.
Known locations: Canada, USA, Mexico & Nicaragua.
Time period: Calabrian through to Tarantian of the Pleistocene. Possibly survived into the early Holocene.
Fossil representation: Multiple specimens.
columbi is better known as the Columbian mammoth, although
it is not
actually named after the country Colombia that is in South America,
but after the province of British Columbia in Canada. The Columbian
mammoth appears to have been one of the most common mammoths roaming
North America during the Pleistocene, and is thought to have come
from mammoths that crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia into North
America during the early Pleistocene at the latest. This would have
been possible by fluctuating sea levels that would have been constantly
rising and falling in connection with decreasing and increasing
M. columbi is often confused with M. imperator, better known as the imperial mammoth, that also lived in North America at the same time as M. columbi. M. imperator is generally considered as being even larger than M. columbi, with tusks that are curved so much that the tips actually overlap one another. Palaeontologists regard this as enough reason to keep these two species of mammoth separate, an analysis that is currently supported by the consistent nature of remains attributed to both species.
Compared to other mammoths, the Columbian mammoth is generally thought to have had a reduced covering of hair from those that were active in Eurasia. This is based upon the fact that North America is generally considered to have been warmer and less frozen than Europe during the Pleistocene, and an extensive covering of hair would have actually hindered the Columbian mammoths ability to cope with the warmer conditions.
One species of mammoth called M. exilis is thought to be descended from M. columbi. Better known as the pygmy mammoth, M. exilis is currently only known from the Californian channel islands where a population of Columbian mammoths are thought to have travelled to when the sea levels were much lower, and land masses larger, only to be cut off from the mainland when sea levels rose again.
As with most of the North American megafauna, the disappearance of the Columbian mammoth remains an uncertain and controversial subject. Hunting by humans is considered to have been a contributing factor, with fossil sites indicating that mammoths were killed and processed by human hunters, although in seemingly insufficient numbers to wipe out the whole population. Climate change has also been taken to be another contributing factor, and combined with increased hunting the stress may have been too great for the population to survive. Other current theories put forward include new diseases brought in from Asia by new migrants such as the first people, but these diseases would have to be so specialised that they would have affected all of the large megafauna while largely having little effect if any upon the smaller animals that exist to this day. Another is that an air burst from a comet exploding in the upper atmosphere similar to the Tunguska event of 1909 caused continent wide devastation that starved the larger animal species into extinction. To further complicate matters some Columbian mammoth remains are claimed to have come from the early Holocene period several thousand years after all of these events are supposed to have wiped out the megafauna. The only thing that remains fairly stable to say at this time is that populations of Columbian mammoths as with other megafauna at this time seem to have declined rapidly to a point that they could not recover from.