Temporal range: Mid Pleistocene
The steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii or Mammuthus armeniacus) is an extinct species of Elephantidae that ranged over most of northern Eurasia during the Middle Pleistocene, 600,000-370,000 years ago. It probably evolved in Siberia during the early Pleistocene from Mammuthus meridionalis. It was the first stage in the evolution of the steppe and tundra elephants and an ancestor of the woolly mammoth of later glacial periods.
There is confusion about the correct taxicological name for the Steppe Mammoth, either Mammuthus armeniacus (Falconer 1857) or Mammuthus trogontherii (Pohlig 1885). Falconer used material from Asian sources while Pohlig worked with fossil remains from Europe and both names appear in scientific publications, adding to the confusion. A first taxonomical overhaul was done by Maglio 1973 who decided that both names were synonyms, armeniacus being the older, hence the preferred name. However in Shoshoni & Tassy 1996 it was decided that the description of Pohlig prevailed, and consequently the correct name for the steppe mammoth is M. trogontherii. It is unclear if both forms are indeed identical and authors tend to use the name M. trogontherii for European material and M. armeniacus for Asian remains.
Several Japanese mammoth varieties from the early Pleistocene have been named, but all are now thought to be synonyms of M. trogontherii.
The steppe mammoth had a short skull compared to M. meridionalis as well as a smaller jaw. The males had spiral tusks with a recurved tip that could grow as long as 5.2 metres (17 ft) in old bulls, females on the other side had thinner and slightly curved tusks.
With several individuals reaching 4 m (13 ft) tall at the shoulders it is among the largest proboscideans to have ever lived (along with M. meridionalis, M. columbi and Deinotherium) or perhaps the largest. A skeleton mounted on the Azov Museum reaches 4.5 m (15 ft) at the shoulder though this figure might be overestimated because the vertebrae have been placed between the tips of the shoulder blades. Another individual represented by a single humerus 1.45 m (4.8 ft) long found in Mosbach Sande, Germany is estimated to have an in the flesh shoulder height of 4.5 m (15 ft) and might be the largest mammoth found yet.
Fossilized teeth are recovered, but skeletal parts are rare. The most complete skeleton of a steppe mammoth yet found was discovered in 1996 in Kikinda, Serbia. It has recently been mounted and put on display. The specimen is a female, which was about 3.7 metres (12 ft) high, 7 metres (23 ft) in length and with 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) long tusks an estimated mass of 7 tonnes when alive.
Another quite complete steppe mammoth was excavated in the cliffs of West Runton in Norfolk, UK; it preserves its jaws and teeth but is missing the upper part of its skull. A rare skull found in Auvergne, France, in 2008 will be examined by Dick Mol and Frédéric Lacombat in the Musée Crozatier in Le Puy-en-Velay.
In 1959 Zhou, M. Z described what he called a new species of mammoth, M. sungari, that gained recent notoriety as the largest proboscidean due to a 5.3 metres (17 ft) tall composite skeletal mount based on two individuals found in 1980. However, Wei et al. (2010), who restudied the fossils referred to M sungari, considered this species to be a junior synonym of M. trogontherii. The authors state that some of the fossils are referrable to M. trogontherii, while the others can be referred to M. primigenius, according to morphological characters and measurements.
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