This animal lived during the Late Pliocene epoch, about 3 million years ago, and it is now thought to have been one of the first large mammals that were adapted for life in open grasslands rather than forests or swamps.
The Oldest Elephant Relative
Gomphotherium belonged to the family of Gomphotheriidae. It is said to have been one of the earliest elephant relatives that existed on Earth. It's their teeth that make these creatures intriguing.
Gomphotherium were herbivores, meaning they ate plants and shrubs to survive. When they ate, the food would go through the front of their throats and into their stomachs, similar to humans. But when they chewed, food would enter the rear of their mouths and go through an extra set of teeth located at the back of their mouths. This was called a prehensile upper lip which acted like a grasping claw that would pull in its forder for chewing.
What were Gomphotheres like?
Like some other Gomphotheriidae, Gomphotherium had huge, massive ears. This is because they were elephants, and elephants are known for having big ears. Other remarkable features about Gomphotheres are that they had small canine teeth meant for shearing off the grass, and they had teeth used for grinding. They also had a barrel-like shape and very thick and muscular tusks, although some were smaller than others.
The fossils of this mammal showed up in 1827
This elephant relative has been found at three different European sites, but all with the same age. These findings helped researchers determine that Gomphotheres were already numerous during the time of the Neanderthals, which makes sense because the two populations could have encountered each other in the regions where they both inhabited.
The date of the oldest fossil shows that elephants were already present during the Middle Pleistocene, in what is considered a uniquely warm period for Earth.
"Gomphotheres had a fairly small body size and had very well-developed tusks. They had a tail and were about the size of a Holstein cow. They had huge faces and eyes," said Thierry Griset of the National Center for Scientific Research.
What was Gomphotherium's size?
Gomphotherium was roughly the size of an African forest elephant. It was about the size of a hippopotamus and also weighed about 10,000 pounds, making it about five times bigger than a modern-day African forest elephant. This ancient beast could probably walk along the seashore.
How do we know about them?
In 1825, geologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck, named Pierre, finally recognized the great diversity of tetrapods in his book "L'Histoire Naturelle des Monstroses. " Gomphotheres were the first known mammal species to be named by a naturalist.
Lamarck described five species of gomphotheres from France and Sweden. The details about their anatomy were astonishingly close to the structure of today's elephant. Gomphotheres had a long trunk that could also be used for cropping plants to get food. But they had a prehensile toe which helped them to use the ground as a platform.
These elephants also had long legs and hind legs, which were bigger and much longer than the front legs. This is why their legs looked like elephant legs.
What was their habitat like?
It is also said that Gomphotheres were one of the earliest known large herbivores, which meant that they thrived in environments of open habitats. They lived in open habitats. Because of this, it is believed that they were one of the first to see the phenomenon of extensive forest expansion as humans began to drive them out of their traditional habitats.
What do we know about Gomphotheres?
The first fossil remains of Gomphotherium were uncovered in 1827 by French paleontologist Auguste Dumont. This is the only genus of a family called Gomphotheriidae, also known as the hippopotamus family. The word "gompo" is derived from the French word "gompo," which means "hippopotamus."
The fossil record of Gomphotherium provides us with evidence of life on Earth that will continue to help us decipher the secrets of the world's ancient past. Although Gomphotheres are often thought of as one of the longest-extinct mammals in the world, we should remember that there are still many ancient mammal relatives that still exist today.
The early ancestors of modern-day elephants probably came from the largest land mammals— the mammoths and mastodons. Mammoths still exist today in the far north of Russia and Canada.
How did Gomphotherium die out
French naturalist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville said that it may have disappeared because of human hunting.
Ducrotay de Blainville wrote in his notes that as humans encroached Gomphotheres' homes, they hunted them like a leopard. Elephants are said to have been top of a hunter's list at that time. Other causes of its extinction possibly included habitat destruction and disturbance.