EleFact Friday: Ancient Elephant Relatives

Happy EleFACT Friday! We’re going to take a look back in history today as we examine some recent elephant news that has been circulating. Last week, news broke of paleontologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History uncovering a graveyard of gomphotheres, which are extinct relatives of elephants dating back to five million years ago. Their findings make up the most complete skeleton found from the time period in Florida. So, what exactly are gomphotheres? 

Gomphotheres are an extinct species of proboscideans related to modern elephants, widespread across Afro-Eurasia and North America, later dispersing into South America. They had long lower jaws with tusks, with later members of the species developing shortened lower jaws with no lower tusks, an example of parallel evolution that made them look more similar to modern elephants. 

The tooth structure of gomphotheres is interesting: while modern elephants have hypsodont teeth, gomphotheres’ teeth are considered to be bunodont, meaning that they had rounded cusps. They are thought to have chewed differently, using an oblique movement of back to front and side to side motions, while elephants today use proal movement, or forwards stroking from the back to front.

Some believe that it is possible that mammoths, which lived about 300,000 to 10,000 years ago, were direct descendants of gomphotheres. It’s also thought that they could have diverged from this evolutionary lineage at some point from the mastodon.

Photo of Maia


  1. REPLY
    Eileen L. says

    Had to go look it up! Learned something very new today, thank you!

  2. REPLY
    Barb says

    Oh yeah! Time to hit the Internet for gomphotheres! Thank you for spurring us on to be better informed! Really , I mean it!

  3. REPLY
    Carol says

    Very cool. Thank you for expounding on this.

  4. REPLY
    jerry says

    Wow! That is an incredibly cool find. It’s amazing that bits and pieces from so long ago are still being discovered.

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