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Temporal range: Pliocene to Holocene, 5.3–0.0091 Ma
Cuvieronius hyodon 1.JPG
Skull of C. hyodon
Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Gomphotheriidae
Genus: Cuvieronius
Osborn, 1923
Type species
Mastotherium hyodon
Fischer, 1814 (conserved name)
  • Cuvieronius hyodon
    (Fischer, 1814) (conserved name)
  •  ?C. priestleyi
  • Mastotherium Fischer, 1814

Cuvieronius is an extinct New World genus of gomphothere and is named after the French naturalist Georges Cuvier. Alive, species stood, on average, about 2.3 m (7.5 ft) tall at the shoulder, weighed about 3.5 tonnes (3.9 tons)[1] and would have superficially resembled modern elephants with spiral-shaped tusks.

History of discovery[edit]

The species now known as Cuvieronius hyodon was among the first fossil animals from the new world to be studied. The first remains of this species were recovered from Ecuador by Alexander von Humboldt, at a location the local population referred to as the "Field of Giants".[2] Humboldt recognized that, rather than being bones of giant humans as had been thought by the local population and previous Spanish colonists, they were similar to the giant elephants (Mastodon) being described from Ohio. Humboldt sent teeth that he had collected from Mexico, Ecuador, and Chile to French anatomist Georges Cuvier, who classified the teeth into two species, which he referred to as the "mastodonte des cordilières" and the "mastodonte humboldien", in an 1806 paper.[3] It was not until 1824 that Cuvier formally named the species. He referred both to the genus Mastodon, calling them M. andium and M. humboldtii.[3]

Life restoration of Cuvieronius hyodon, based on specimens from Mexico.

Unbeknownst to Cuvier, Fischer had, in 1814, already named the two species based on Cuvier's original description, in the new genus Mastotherium as M. hyodon and M. humboldtii. The idea of two distinct species continued to be accepted into the 20th Century, usually using Cuvier's names, though Fischer's names were older.[3] In 1923, Henry Fairfield Osborn recognized that these species were distinct from Mastodon, and assigned each to its own new genus, as Cuvieronius humboldtii and Cordillerion andium. However, by the 1930s, general agreement had shifted to regard both forms as representing a single, geographically widespread species, with Cuvieronius humboldtii considered to be the correct name.[3] During the 1950s, the nomenclature of this species became increasingly tangled, as various scientists regarded the type species of the genus Cuvieronius to be Fischer's first published name Mastotherium hyodon, rather than the originally designated Mastodon humboldtii. This situation went unaddressed until 2009, when Spencer Lucas petitioned the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature to officially change the type species of Cuvieronius to M. hyodon as had been followed for over 50 years by that time, rather than abandoning the well-known Cuvieronius as a synonym.[3] In 2011, Opinion 2276 of the ICZN ruled to conserve the names.



This animal initially evolved in North America about 5.3—5.2 million years ago (AEO) with fossil evidence uncovered in at the Tehuichila site in Hidalgo, Mexico.[4][5] During the Great American Interchange of around 3 million years ago, Cuvieronius and two species of its sister genus Stegomastodon moved south into South America. They were the only proboscid mammals to colonize South America.[6] living as far south as Chile, with specimens unearthed at the Quereo I site (Quereo Quebrada) dating to the Late Pleistocene 11,600—11,400 BP.[7]

North America[edit]

The oldest fossil remains to date are of Cuvieronius species found in Lincoln County, Nevada, which date to an accurate 4.6 million years ago (AEO). It was also found as far east as South Carolina and North Carolina from 1.81 million—126,000 years ago. In Florida, remains show both Cuvieronius sp. and C. tropicus living from 3.7—1.5 million years ago (AEO).[8] The most recent findings of Cuvieronius sp. in North America are in Sonora, Mexico, with findings dated at 13,390 BP.[9]

South America[edit]

Remains of Cuvieronius have been found in association with man, and pieces of its hide and muscle tissue have been found in Chile: “The site has also yielded 38 small pieces of animal hide and muscle tissue, some still preserved on bones of Cuvieronius. Pieces of hide were also recovered from hearth areas, living floors, and wooden structural remains. Some pieces were still attached to wooden poles, possibly suggesting the presence of hide-draped huts. Pathological and other analyses of these pieces suggest that they are also of a proboscidean.”[10] South American fossils formerly attributed to mastodons are now believed to be Cuvieronius.

Restoration by Sergio de la Rosa.

The related Stegomastodon occupied warmer, lower-altitude habitats in South America, while the smaller C. hyodon occupied cooler, higher-altitude Andean habitats.[6]

Cuvieronius was a mixed feeder, and has been dated at least as recently as 9,100 BP in Monte Verde, Chile,.[11] By the end of the Pleistocene, the northern limit of the range of Cuvieronius was in Mexico.[5]


  1. ^ Larramendi, A. (2016). "Shoulder height, body mass and shape of proboscideans" (PDF). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 61. doi:10.4202/app.00136.2014. 
  2. ^ Mayor, A. (2005). Fossil legends of the first Americans. Princeton University Press.
  3. ^ a b c d e Lucas, S.G. (2009). Case 3479 Cuvieronius Osborn, 1923 (Mammalia, Proboscidea): Proposed conservation. Bull. Zool. Nomen, 66, 1-6.
  4. ^ Paleobiology database, Collection 18746, Tehuichila site, State of Hidalgo, Mexico. John Alroy April 30, 1994.
  5. ^ a b Graham, R. W. (2001). "Late Quaternary Biogeography and Extinction of Proboscideans in North America" (PDF). In Cavarretta, G.; Gioia, P.; Mussi, M.; et al. The World of Elephants (La Terra degli Elefanti) - Proceedings of the 1st International Congress [Atti del 1o Congresso Internazionale], Rome October 16–20, 2001. Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. pp. 707–709. ISBN 88-8080-025-6. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  6. ^ a b Prado, J. L.; Alberdi, M. T.; Azanza, B.; Sánchez, B.; Frassinetti, D. (2005). "The Pleistocene Gomphotheriidae (Proboscidea) from South America". Quaternary International. 126-128: 21–30. Bibcode:2005QuInt.126...21P. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2004.04.012. 
  7. ^ Paleobiology database, Collection 71265, Quereo Quebrada, Chile. Authority: John Alroy February 5, 1999.
  8. ^ Paleobiology database. Collections (Florida) 20299 20308 20351, 20400, 20482, 20403, 20475, 20478, 20494, 58089. incl. reposits in Florida Museum of Natural History, 1.8 ma—300,000 ka, Mark D. Uhen, Ph.D. and John Alroy, Ph.D.
  9. ^ Sanchez, Guadalupe; Holliday, Vance T.; Gaines, Edmund P.; Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquín; Martínez-Tagüeña, Natalia; Kowler, Andrew; Lange, Todd; Hodgins, Gregory W. L.; Mentzer, Susan M. (2014-07-29). "Human (Clovis)–gomphothere (Cuvieronius sp.) association ∼13,390 calibrated yBP in Sonora, Mexico". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (30): 10972–10977. doi:10.1073/pnas.1404546111. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4121807free to read. PMID 25024193. 
  10. ^ Casamiquela, “South American Proboscideans: General Introduction and Reflections on Pleistocene Extinctions”, The Proboscidea: Evolution and Palaeoecology of Elephants and Their Relatives, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 316-320.
  11. ^ Rafael O. Labarca and Patrick G. Lopez, “Los mamíferos finipleistocénicos de la Formación Quebrada Quereo (IV Región-Chile): biogeografía, bioestratigrafía e inferencias paleoambientales”, Mastozoología Neotropical, Volume 13, Number 1, (June 2006), 89-101

External links[edit]