The Columbian mammoth is one of three species of mammoths that
roamed North America during the Ice Age. The other two species were
the wooly mammoth and Jefferson's mammoth. The largest Columbian
mammoths were more than 13 feet (4 meters) high at the shoulders,
and weighed as much as ten tons (nine metric tons). The tusks of
the Columbian mammoth were up to 14 feet (4.25 meters) long, and
its washboard-like teeth were well-suited for chewing grass.
Mastodons were distant relatives of mammoths and elephants. In
North America, they were generally smaller than mammoths, standing
about 7-8 feet tall at the shoulder. Unlike the washboard-like
teeth of mammoths, mastodons had blunt, cone-shaped teeth that were
probably used to chew leaves and pine needles in wooded areas.
The dire wolf was a powerfully-built animal with sturdy legs, a
broad head, and large teeth that may have been used to crush bone.
Similar in appearance and size to the modern grey wolf, dire wolves
were about five feet (1.5 meters) long and weighed about 110 pounds
(50 kilograms). The range of the dire wolf extended to many parts
of the Western Hemisphere. The remains of more than 3,600 dire
wolves were recovered from the La Brea Tarpits in Los Angeles.
As its name indicates, the saber-toothed cat had large canines
that were up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) long. Saber-toothed cats
were about the size of modern African lions, and had short,
powerful legs, indicating that they probably hunted by ambushing
their prey rather than chasing them down. Remains of saber-toothed
cats have been found throughout North and South America.
Harlan's Ground Sloth
Harlan's ground sloth was related to modern tree sloths, but
were much larger, standing about 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and
weighing 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms). It had very large,
powerfully-built limbs and claws. Harlan's ground sloth moved in an
unusual manner, walking on the backs of its forefeet and the sides
of its hind feet.
The American lion was slightly larger than the modern African
lion. Their remains have been found from Alaska to northern South
America. It was a formidable predator with a powerfully-built body
and large canine teeth. The American lion probably hunted large
prey, such as the ancient bison and Western horse, in open
woodlands and grasslands.
The short-faced bear was the largest carnivore in North America
during the Ice Age. It was taller than the brown (grizzly) bear,
with longer, more slender hind legs, and a relatively short face
that was more reminiscent of a lion rather than any living North
American bear. In North America, the short-faced bear occupied the
high grasslands west of the Mississippi, from Alaska to Mexico. In
these areas, it probably preyed upon bison, deer, and horses.
The muskox is a herding animal that adapted to living in very
cold conditions. It has long, dense, shaggy hair and large horns
that curve down close to the head then turn upward near the tips.
The extinct woodland muskox inhabited the plains and wooded areas.
Males were considerably larger than females, standing 3 to 5 feet
at the shoulder, and weighing up to an estimated 900 pounds.
Illustrations by Eric Parrish © Denver Museum of Nature