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Deinotherium: "Terrible Beast"

A nearly complete mounted Deinotherium giganteum on display at the Natural History Museum in Bucharest

A nearly complete mounted Deinotherium giganteum on display at the Natural History Museum in Bucharest. This elephant towers over all the other types of elephants. The specimen pictured here is the type specimen of G. giganteum and is late Miocene in age from Romania.


Deinotherium - Facts about the giant prehistoric elephant


Fast Facts

Deinotherium bozasi restoration. By Concavenator (CC-BY-SA-4.0).


Name: Deinotherium (pronunciation: "Dino-ther-ium")
The name means "Terrible Beast"

Taxonomy: Mammalia (Mammal Class) - Proboscidea (Order) - Deinotheriidae (Family) - Deinotherium (Genus)

Generally accepted species:
D. giganteum, D. proavum, D. bozasi, D. thraceiensis

Age: Middle Miocene to Early Pliocene.

Extinction: Early Pliocene The last fossils of Deinotherium are found in Kenya from the Early Pliocene.

Distribution: Europe, Central Asia, and Africa

Body Size: One of the largest elephants to exist
Slightly larger than an African elephant. D. gigantgeum had an average shoulder height 4m (13 feet) (Larramendi 2015). For comparison, an average adult male African elephant has a shoulder height of 3.5 m (11.5 feet).

Description:
Deinotherium had odd downward pointed tusks in the lower jaws that were used to strip leaves off branches. It also had a flat forehead and a very short trunk.

Ecology/Diet: Herbivore:
Deinotherium lived in forested environments eating vegetation, mainly from trees.

Fun Facts:
Deinotherium bozasi in Africa would have interacted with early hominids, such as Ausralopithecus.




Introduction


A lifesized model of Deinotehrium giganteum in the entrance area of the Natural History Museum in Mainz, Germany.  These animals populated the Rhine Valley in Germany 3.5 million years ago. IMage Credit: Bodow (CC-BY-SA-4.0).

A lifesized model of Deinotehrium giganteum in the entrance area of the Natural History Museum in Mainz, Germany. These animals populated the Rhine Valley in Germany 3.5 million years ago. IMage Credit: Bodow (CC-BY-SA-4.0).


Deinotheriums were large elephant like animals that ranged from Africa to Europe and Central Asia. They lived mainly in the Miocene and Pliocene, although one genus survived into the Early Pleistocene. Deinotheriums are some of the larger elephants to exist; they were slightly larger than African elephants today. These animals were more basal than modern elephants and their appearance was a little different. They had longer legs, a flat forehead, a short trunk, and, most notably, odd inward curving tusks in their lower jaws. It’s thought that Deinotheriums lived in forested environments and used their downward curving tusks to strip tree branches of vegetation.






Origins, Species, and Distribution

Various species of Deinotherium. Image Credit: Asier Larramendi (CC-BY-3.0).

Various species of Deinotherium. Image Credit: Asier Larramendi (CC-BY-3.0).


The Deinotheriid family breaks off early in the evolutionary tree with elephants. The first Deinotherids branch off in the Oligocene around 27-28 million years ago with the Chilgatherium genus in Ethiopia. These animals were small with an average shoulder height around 2m (6.6 feet) (Larramendi 2015). The next genus, Prodeinotherium, arose from these early animals in the Miocene. They were very similar but larger. An average Prodeinotherium hobleyi was around 2.7 m (8.9 feet) tall at the shoulders (Larramendi 2015). These animals eventually branched into the Deinotherium genus and spread from Africa into Europe and Central Asia. Deinotheriums did not change or adapt much over the 20 million years they existed. The last Deinotherium fossils are found in a layer of the Kanjera formation of Kenya which is dated at 1.0 million years old (Behrensmeyer et al., 1995).

The taxonomy of Deinotherium has been chaotic for decades (Larramendi, 2015) and the number and names of species tend to change. It appears the following species are generally most accepted:

D. giganteum is a Middle Miocene to Early Pliocene species from Europe and Central Asia. It is also the original species to be discovered. A large adult of this species is estimated to weigh 12000 kg (26500 lbs) and have a shoulder height of 4m (13 feet) (Larramendi 2015). The species D. levius is probably synonymous with D. giganteum.

D. thraceiensis is a problematic species named from a specimen found in the Miocene of Bulgaria. Either it’s a new species, as Kovachec and Nikolov (2006) suggest, or the specimen is an outlier of D. giganteum. The D. thraceiensis specimen is estimated to have a body mass of 13200 kg (29100 lbs) and a shoulder height of 4.01 m (13.2 feet) (Larramendi 2015).

D. proavum is a Late Miocene species from Greece. The average mass of this species was 10500 kg (23100 lbs) and a large adult was around 3.6 m (11.8 feet) (Larramendi 2015). D. gigantissimum and D. indicum are probably synonymous with D. proavum.

D. bozasi is a Late Miocene to Early Pleistocene species from Africa. It is the last of the Deinotheres. While most other Deinotherium were extinct by the end of the Pliocene, fossils in Kenya show D. bozasi lived in Africa until the early Pleistocene. Early hominids, such as Australopithecus probably interacted with this animal.



Description and Paleoecology of Deinotherium

This is an illustration of a Dinotherium giganteum head and jaw.  It's from the book Kameno doba by Jovan Zujovic (1856-1936), published in Belgrade in 1893. Public Domain.

This is an illustration of a Dinotherium giganteum head and jaw. It's from the book Kameno doba by Jovan Zujovic (1856-1936), published in Belgrade in 1893. Public Domain.


Since Deinotherium comes from a more basal group of elephants and diverged early in the Oligocene, they are not as closely related to modern elephants as in most other prehistoric elephants, such as mammoths and mastodons. Because of this, Deinotheres would have looked a little different. A few key differences, discussed below, is the size, tusks, forehead, and trunk.

Large Size

Deinotheriums had longer legs than modern elephants and were more massive. They were some of the largest elephants to exist as the only larger elephants may have been the Columbian Mammoths and a huge elephant called Palaeoloxodon namadicus. Out of the various species of Deinotherium, D. thraceiensis is the largest, with a body mass of 13200 kg (29100 lbs) and a shoulder height of 4.01 m (13.2 feet) (Larramendi 2015). For comparison, an average adult male African elephant has a shoulder height of 3.5 m (11.5 feet) and a mass of 5000 kg (11,000 lbs).

Tusks, Trunk, and Skull – A Specialized Feeder

Fig. 1 from Markov et al. (2001). Reconstruction of the head of Deinotherium giganteum (Drawing: Velizar Simeonovski).

This is Fig. 1 from Markov et al. (2001). Reconstruction of the head of Deinotherium giganteum (Drawing: Velizar Simeonovski). This is probably the most accurate reconstruction of a Deinotherium.


The skull of Deinotherium is different from most other elephants. The forehead is very flat, and although it has a large nasal opening for a trunk, other features on the skull show it probably had a very short trunk (Markov et al. 2001). Other skull features, the cheek teeth, and the downward curved tusks in its lower jaw hint to it being a specialized feeder (Markov et al. 2001). The use of its tusks originally perplexed paleontologists, even causing them to mount them upside down! Today, looking at all the skull and cheek teeth adaptations along with the tusks, it is thought Deinotheres fed on tree crowns in forested environments using the unique tusks to strip branches of foliage (Markov et al. 2001).


A life sized model of a scientifically accurate Deinotherium giganteum head on display at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

A life sized model of a scientifically accurate Deinotherium giganteum head on display at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. It appears to be based off of the work of Markov et al. 2001.




Extinction – Climate Change and The Expansion of Grasslands

Deinotherium was an earlier group of elephants that were well suited for stripping vegetation from trees. As the Miocene was coming to an end, the global climate changed becoming cooler and more arid (Chaimberlan et al., 2014). This caused global ecosystems to change from forested environments to grasslands, which in turn influenced mammal evolution (Cerling et al., 1993 and Janice, 1993). This trend continued into full blown savannahs in the Pliocene.

Although the climate and ecosystems were changing, the diets of Deinotherium remained more or less the same; these animals changed very little. By the end of the Pliocene, traditional Deinotherium habitats had vanished and Deinotherium went extinct. The more modern elephants that had flatter ridges on their molars and better suited tusks enabled them to eat grasses better.

This cooling climate throughout the Cenozoic and the resulting expansion of grasses is attributed to many of the extinctions of many large mammals, such as the Gomphotheres (another prehistoric elephant), the Brontotheres, and Arsinoitherium.




Works Cited:


Behrensmeyer, A. K., R. Potts, T. Plummer, L. Tauxe, N. Opdyke, and T. Jorstad. (1995). Stratigraphy, chronology, and paleoenvironments of the Pleistocene locality of Kanjera, western Kenya. The Journal of Human Evolution:29: 247-274.

Cerling, T., Y. Wang, and J. Quade (1993). Expansion of C4 ecosystems as an indicator of global ecological change in the late Miocene, Nature, 361, 344–345.

Chamberlain, C., Winnick, M., Hari, M., Chamberlain, S., Katharine M. (2014). The impact of Neogene grassland expansion and aridification on the isotopic composition of continental precipitation. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. DOI: 10.1002/2014GB004822..

Janis, C. M. (1993). Mammal evolution in the context of changing climates, vegetation and tectonic events, Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst., 24, 467–500.

Kovachev, D. and Nikolov, I. (2006). Deinotherium thraceiensis sp. nov. from the Miocene near Ezerovo, Plovdiv District. Geologica Balcanica 35 (3–4): 5–40. Retrieved from: geologica-balcanica.

Larramendi, A. (2015). Shoulder Height, Body Mass and Shape of Proboscideans. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 61. dx.doi.org/10.4202/app.00136.2014.

Markov G.N., Spassov N., Simeonovski V. (2001). "A reconstruction of the facial morphology and feeding behaviour of the deinotheres". The World of Elephants – International Congress: 652–655. doi.org/10.4202/app.00136.2014.



Recommended Books and Stuff!



End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals
Ross D E MacPhee (Author) and Peter Schouten (Illustrator), 2018

This is a beautifully illustrated book about the extinction of megafauna over the last ice age. It is easy to read and yet, full of quality, up-to-date, scientific information. It's a great book to explore the ice age and all the interesting animals that lived back then. infomation. Available in Hardcover and Kindle.




Cenozoic Mammals of Africa
Editors: Werdelin and Sanders, 2008

This reviews the mammal fossil record from Africa over the past 65 million years (including the Arsinoitherium species with fossil images). Included is detailed information about the fossil sites, the mammals, paleoecology, biogeography, and much more. It's great for anyone wanting to study the fossil record of mammals. There were lots of strange mammals in Africa!



Deinotherium Toy Figure by MOJO
Complete with the long legs, short trunk, and flat forehead, this is an incredibly scientific model of Deinotherium. If your kid likes Dinosaurs, expand their horizons by trying out this Prehistoric Beast!





Additional Images of Deinotherium:


Side view of the mounted Deinotherium giganteum on display at the Natural History Museum of Bucharest.

Side view of the mounted Deinotherium giganteum on display at the Natural History Museum of Bucharest.



A Deinotherium skull on display at the Natural History Museum in Paris, France.

A Deinotherium skull on display at the Natural History Museum in Paris, France.



A Deinotherium skull and cast of mandible from Deinotherium giganteum. Specimen # PV IR 40631 at the British Museum of Natural History

A cranium and CAST of a mandible from Deinotherium giganteum: Specimen # PV OR 40631 at the British Museum of Natural History. From: Natural History Museum Online Collection. Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (CC-by-4.0).



A Deinotherium skull on display at the British Natural History Museum in London.

A Deinotherium skull on display at the British Natural History Museum in London.



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