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Preserved Tusks Give Us Insight On A Woolly Mammoth’s Life

By Celina Yin

A scientist examines a large and curving tusk. The scientist cuts it apart. He examines it closely. Who does this tusk belong to? A woolly mammoth!

Dr. Matthew Wooller from the University of Alaska and his team sliced open a preserved mammoth tusk to provide more than 400,000 data points for a study. The team found many layers in the tusk, surrounding the bone, and the cutting of the tusk exposed the layers that were added as the woolly mammoth grew. Dr. Wooller said that the layers looked like “ice cream cones stacked one inside of each other.”

A woolly mammoth was named Kik after the river that some researchers found its remains at. At around 15 or 16 years old, the woolly mammoth started traveling farther, more to the north. Kik likely left the herd around then, Dr. Wooller said. He also said that Kik’s behavior mirrored patterns in a modern elephant’s herds, in which the maturing males were “encouraged” to leave the herd and go off on their own. Later in Kik’s life, he roamed and explored some paths that modern caribou use today. Dr. Wooller said that Kik might have shared migration paths with the ancient caribou as it traveled seasonally to find food. Kik’s death likely came at the gravel bar, which is an elevated area of gravel formed by a river. His remains were found in 2010. Dr. Wooller stated that the discovery of two tusks and a partial skull gives us pretty good confidence that that’s where it died. A close and detailed examination of the tusk showed that Kik was 28 years old when he died and that it is likely that Kik starved in his last days.

This study has been pretty successful and has helped us with exploring the life of a woolly mammoth, which is an extinct Ice Age creature, but also gives us insight on some environmental concerns we have about our modern day Arctic animals, such as polar bears and arctic foxes.

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