Platybelodon Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Platybelodon danovi
Platybelodon Conservation Status
Platybelodon Physical Characteristics
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Can you imagine an elephant with scoop-like tusks?
That’s exactly what the prehistoric Platybelodon, distantly related to modern-day elephants, looked like. It lived during the Miocene Epoch and used its tusks more like a shovel, bringing plants into its hungry mouth. With upper and lower tusks, the Platybelodon was a unique-looking ancient animal.
Platybelodon Species, Types, and Scientific Name
While its name may remind you of a platypus, it is actually closely related to the elephant. The scientific name of the only species in the Platybelodon genus is Platybelodon danovi. It means “flat-spear tusk” and refers to both the shape and function of their trunk and tusks. They were ancient mammals that were warm-blooded.
The Platybelodon is a member of the Amebelodontidae family. All of the animals in this family are extinct but included Amebelodon, Archaeobelodon, and Protanancus. This family was part of the Proboscidea order along with modern-day elephants. These were some of the largest land mammals at the time and remain some of the largest today.
Platybelodon belonged to the phylum Chordata and the kingdom Animalia. Its complete taxonomy is listed below to show how it fit into the animal kingdom.
Description and Size
Platybelodons were a bit smaller in size than most modern elephants. They could be up to 10 feet long and weigh around 2 or 3 tons. For comparison, an Asian Elephant is around 20 feet long and can weigh up to 4 tons. African Bush Elephants, the largest elephants, can be up to 24 feet long and 7 tons. They are the largest land mammal in existence today.
These ancient Proboscideans are characterized by their shoveling tusks. They had trunks, similar to other Proboscideans of their time and today. Their upper tusks were just below their trunks. Their lower tusks extended 2 or 3 feet. It was joined and acted like a spork, which they used to shovel and spear food.
Tusks are actually teeth and the teeth of the Platybelodon were serrated to help cut tough vegetation. They could have scooped up plants just like a shovel. Because their lower tusks were so large, they could have also stripped bark from trees.
Diet – What Did Platybelodon Eat?
These prehistoric elephants were herbivores and ate plants. Their diet probably included aquatic vegetation that they dredged up from the swamps where they lived.
They probably ate bark and plants from trees as well. Platybelodons would have been able to grasp the trunk of a tree in their tusks and either shake it or strip it to remove their food. Flat teeth could grind up the plants as they ate.
Their tusks were probably not used to eat as much as they were used for defense. The Platybelodon had sharp teeth at the front of its lower jaw separate from its tusks that could cut leaves into smaller pieces for eating.
Habitat – When and Where It lived
Based on discoveries of fossils, the Platybelodon lived during the Miocene Epoch. This time in prehistoric history lasted from 23 to 5.3 million years ago, during the Neogene Period. This was well after the dinosaurs went extinct following an asteroid hitting the earth 66 million years ago.
Platybelodon lived in present-day Africa, Asia, and near the Black Sea. These are also the regions where modern elephants live, although there are multiple species currently in existence. Platybelodon only had one species and there is evidence that they lived throughout this widespread area.
Threats and Predators
Many mammals, including predators, evolved during the Miocene Epoch. The Sabre-Tooth Tiger and its relatives started to develop and likely dominated as a key predator. The Platybelodon was large compared to many species but it was still vulnerable to carnivores who hunted for food.
Injury and illness were always threats to ancient animals. The Platybelodon’s tusks would have caused damage to each other if they fought over food or mates. These injuries could easily prove life-threatening as they weakened the animals and made them easier prey for hungry carnivores.
Scientists do not know how many young an adult female Platybelodon had at one time. Because these animals were mammals, however, they do know that they gave birth to live young. These babies were the most vulnerable of the Platybelodon. Modern elephants live in herds to protect their young. It is possible that this behavior also existed in their ancestors, the Platybelodon.
Discoveries and Fossils – Where It was Found
Russian paleontologist A.A. Borissiak was the first to describe Platybelodon in scientific research in 1927. He based his description on specimens found in the North Caucasus region in Eastern Europe which includes Russia and is sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Henry Fairfield Osborn and Walter Granger published research in the 1930s about the various life stages and development of the Platybelodon that went on to become a well-visited exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The exhibit does not include actual fossils, however. It showcases what scientists and researchers believe these animals looked like, based on multiple specimens that have been discovered since the 1930s.
Extinction – When Did It Die Out?
Modern-day elephants are the only remaining members of the Proboscidea order. Platybelodon and other genera in the order went extinct during the Miocene and since. Scientists do not know exactly why these mammals went extinct. Like with most species, the most likely explanation is that competition over resources like food made it hard for them to survive to the present day.
The changing vegetation during the Miocene epoch would have impacted not just plants but the animals who relied on them for food.
Similar Animals to the Platybelodon
- African Elephant: Along with the Asian Elephant, these are the only surviving relatives of the Platybelodon. They have tusks and trunks, similar to their ancestors. Their lower jaws evolved to be smaller and do not function as shovels like the Platybelodon.
- Amebelodon: These Proboscideans also had flat lower tusks that they used as shovels. They lived in North America during the Miocene epoch.
- Mammoth: One of the best-known ancient Proboscideans is the Mammoth. They had long, curved tusks and were usually quite a bit larger than the Platybelodon. They lived during the Pliocene, around 5 million years ago, all the way through the Holocene, around 4,000 years ago. They lived alongside early humans.
Platybelodon FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When did Platybelodon live?
Platybelodon lived during the Neogene Period and the Miocene Epoch. This time in prehistoric history lasted from 23 to 5.3 million years ago.
How big was a Platybelodon?
Platybelodons could be up to 10 feet long and weigh around 2 or 3 tons. Their lower jaw, which was one of their most recognizable features, was often 2 or 3 feet long.
- Thought Co., Available here: https://www.thoughtco.com/platybelodon-flat-tusk-1093265
- Platybelodon Fact Sheet, Available here: https://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/mammals/extinct/Platybelodon.shtml#:~:text=Diet%2C%20Teeth%20and%20Tusks,for%20cutting%20leaves%20to%20eat.
- Encylopedia Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/science/Miocene-Epoch
- National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/the-mystery-of-the-shovel-tuskers
- American Museum of Natural History, Available here: https://www.amnh.org/