What is that huge tooth!? – Answer to the Freak of the Week #4

This interesting specimen that we were called out to look at is a single tooth, the third molar, of a mastodon (Mammut americanum)! What you see in the photos is the crown of the tooth, the part of the tooth that would be above the gum line. You can easily distinguish a mastodon tooth from a mammoth tooth. The mastodon has conical shaped cusps on the crown while the mammoth has multiple ridges of enamel that form a flat grinding surface. This reflects the diet of each species. The mastodon was a browser and ate leaves and branches of trees and shrubs as well as conifer needles and aquatic plants. The mammoth was more of a grazer, consuming mainly coarse grasses and sedges.

This individual was a young adult. The third molar is the last tooth to erupt in mastodons (and in mammoths and elephants), but this tooth doesn’t show any wear on the cusps. Thus the tooth was fully formed but hadn’t erupted to the point of receiving any wear.

This tooth was discovered by the landowner while digging to improve drainage in a soybean field. Is more of the mastodon still in the ground!? We don’t know yet, but stay tuned to this blog. If and when more of this animal is recovered, you’ll be the first to know.

Posted November 8, 2013

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