Platybelodon Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Platybelodon danovi
Platybelodon Conservation Status
Platybelodon Physical Characteristics
Can you imagine an elephant with a scoop-like jaw and a stubby trunk? That’s exactly what the extinct Platybelodon looked like! It lived during the Miocene Epoch and is related to the modern-day elephant.
Classification and Scientific Name
While its name may remind you of a platypus, the scientific name Platybelodon danovi means “flat-spear tusk” and refers to both the shape and function of the trunk and tusks of the Platybelodon genus.
The Platybelodon is a member of the Proboscidea order along with modern-day elephants (proboscis meaning nose of a mammal, especially those with trunks or a long snout). It is also a member of the Amebelodontidae family and subfamily Platybelodontinae. All of the animals in this family are extinct. These were some of the largest land mammals of their time and remain to this day some of the largest ever known.
The genus Platybelodon had at least five species, but maybe several more. The type species is danovi. The other named species are: P. grangeri. P. beliajevae. P. tongxinensis, and P. tetralophus.
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 shovel-like snout. Their lower tusks were flat and sharp like incisors and extended forward 2 or 3 feet. These tusks were joined, and it was thought that the Platybelodon used these jutting “teeth” like a “spork” to shovel and spear food. However, now scientists think they were used like a scythe to cut through tree branches and strip bark from trees.
Their upper tusks curved down to just below the lower jaw. Its trunk was not separate but served as the upper jaw and roof of the mouth. The trunk did not extend beyond the mouth like an elephant’s does. Other than small ears, the Platybelodon’s body was very much like that of an elephant.
These prehistoric mammals were herbivores and ate plants. Their diet probably included aquatic or soft vegetation that they got from the moist grasslands near the water sources where they lived. 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.
They probably ate bark from trees as well. Platybelodons would have been able to grasp the trunk of a tree and either shake it or strip it to remove the bark. Flat teeth in the back of the mouth could grind up the plants as they ate.
Their top tusks were probably not used to eat as much as they were used for defense.
Based on discoveries of fossils, the Platybelodon lived during the Miocene Epoch. This history period lasted from 23.7 to 5.3 million years ago, but the Proboscidea order didn’t show up until about 15 million years ago. This was well after the dinosaurs went extinct following an asteroid hitting the earth and obliterating many of its inhabitants 66 million years ago.
Platybelodon were believed to have lived in present-day Africa, Asia, and the Caucusus region, but fossils have been found in North America and northwestern China as well. Modern elephants also live in Africa and Asia.
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 if it 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 members of the Platybelodon genus. Modern elephants live in herds to protect their young. It is possible that this behavior also existed in their relatives, the Platybelodons.
Discoveries and Fossils
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, 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.
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 like the Platybelodon.
- Amebelodon: These Proboscideans also had flat lower tusks. They lived in North America during the Miocene epoch.
- Mammoth: One of the best-known ancient Proboscideans is the Mammoth. It had long, curved tusks and was usually quite a bit larger than the Platybelodon. It lived during the Pliocene, around 5 million years ago, all the way through the Holocene, around 4,000 years ago. It 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.
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- 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/