New theory suggests platybelodon had a separate trunk

Oct 07, 2013 by weblog
Osborn’s reconstruction of Platybelodon from his 1936 book Proboscidea. Credit: American Museum of Natural History, via the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Wired

(Phys.org) —Noted paleontologist William Sanders of the University of Michigan has suggested via email to Matt Simon of Wired Magazine, that earlier depictions of platybelodon with a gaping mouth are likely misrepresenting what the ancient elephant-like animal actually looked like.

By most standards, the platybelodon was an odd looking animal—while resembling modern elephants, it also had a protruding lower jaw with horizontal teeth that Sanders believes were used in a scythe-like manner to mow down grass for consumption. Platybelodon fossils were first discovered and described back in the early 1920's. Since that time, many more fossils (particularly in China) have been found helping to give researchers a better picture of what the animal actually looked like. It's now pretty clear that they lived approximately 8 to 20 million years ago in Africa, Asia and even made their way to North America. But because their upper region, snout or , was made of softer material that didn't fossilize very well, researchers have not been able to see what the upper part of the mouth or trunk actually looked like. For that reason, they have had to put forth theories to explain why an animal would grow a lower jaw the way it did and how an upper mouth or trunk might make best use of what it had—otherwise, neither would have evolved the way it did.

The earliest depictions of platybelodon show an elephant-like creature with a dexterous upper mouth and large, equally dexterous tongue. The thinking, by one of the first to try to understand how the animal looked—Henry Osborn—was that platybelodon simply used its mouth parts to grab food and eat it, much like most other grazers. Paleontologist David Lambert, suggested back in 1992, however, that careful study of the teeth on the bottom jaw indicated the animal used them for slicing grass, a feat which would have been difficult for a simple normal grazer. Now, Sanders is weighing in, suggesting that the answer is simple—platybelodon had a trunk like modern elephants, but rather than simply using it to yank food from the ground to stuff into its mouth, it used it to hold onto thick tough grasses while sawing with its lower teeth. That would explain, he says, why the trait evolved—it was a way to help feed a large animal that had to subsist on grass that was too tough to simply yank from the ground.

Explore further: New advance on Platybelodon from the Linxia Basin of China

Related Stories

Elephant tooth evolution rooted in grass

Jun 26, 2013

Once they developed a taste for grass, the ancestors of today's elephants swiftly broadened their leaf-only diet and placed their progeny on a new evolutionary track, a study said Wednesday.

T. Rex's killer smile revealed

Feb 28, 2012

One of the most prominent features of life-size, museum models of Tyrannosaurus rex, is its fearsome array of flesh-ripping, bone-crushing teeth.

Recommended for you

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

Apr 14, 2014

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Serbia experts use heavy machinery to move mammoth

Apr 11, 2014

Serbian archaeologists on Friday used heavy machinery to move a female mammoth skeleton—believed to be one million years old—from an open mine pit where it was unearthed nearly five years ago.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ubavontuba
1.1 / 5 (7) Oct 07, 2013
That is a rather weird looking adaptation. Wikipedia, and other sources, suggest it was used to strip bark from trees and cut small branches.

http://en.wikiped...ybelodon

More news stories

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...