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Age of Mammals

Evolution of elephants

Deinotherium, a Miocene elephantDeinotherium, a Miocene elephant The two species of elephant alive today—the African and Asian—are all that remain of a once large and magnificent family of animals. An early elephant was Moeritherium, a pig-sized animal that rooted around in North African swamps during the Eocene Epoch, 37 million years ago. As elephants evolved they tended to grow bigger. Their legs needed to be long and pillar-like to support their massive weight. At the same time, the elephants' mouths became further and further from the ground. To take up water and food, the animals needed longer and longer trunks.

Elephant family tree

The elephant family treeThe elephant family treeA very early ancestor was Moeritherium, a swamp-dwelling, pig-sized animal. Palaeomastodon’s legs needed to be long and pillar-like to support its massive weight, and a trunk became necessary to take up water and food. Huge animals like Gomphotherium, together with others that had weirdly shaped tusks like Platybelodon, spread to different parts of the world during the Miocene. Steppe mammoths more than 4 metres (13 feet) tall roamed the tundras of Europe during the Ice Ages.


First elephants

The earliest known elephant is Eritherium azzouzorum, which lived in North Africa about 60 million years ago. It probably weighed about 4–5 kg (8–11 lb), about the weight of a small terrier dog.

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