Remember the Mastodon
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What happened to the Mastodons of Staten Island?
The jumbo molar and other fossilized bones of Mammut americanum found on Staten Island tells us that these giants once called the borough home. Finds like these were wondrous for the people of the 18th and 19th centuries. Today too, it is incredible to imagine 10,000 pound beasts roaming the boroughs of New York City. Their presence on Staten Island serves as a dramatic lesson about extinction and habitat change.
The Museum’s giant tooth indicates that huge megafauna existed on Staten Island 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, but were lost by the end of the Pleistocene epoch (Ice Age). Why these creatures disappeared is a highly debated question. Scientists have attributed their extinction to hunting, climate change, and even viruses. While all these factors may have played a part, new research on East Coast mastodons indicate climate change was the main culprit; a cautioning message. If we learn why Mastodon disappeared we could be a step closer to understanding our own future and challenges.
Remember the Mastodon is about the hard facts of extinction, the wonder of enduring species, the importance of biodiversity, and the challenge of preservation. It uses the Museum’s 150-plus year collection of flora, fauna, and fossils to show what survival and loss are about.
Fossils Tell a Story (evidence of past life in dinosaur footprints); Mastodons & Humans (Paleo-Indian projectile points and mastodon tooth fossils); Survivors (fossils of coral, horseshoe crabs, dragonflies, shrimp, and other ancient organisms that have close relatives existing today); Birds & Extinction (lost birds like the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, and ivory-billed woodpeckers, are coupled with currently at-risk and saved species); Collecting & Preserving Biodiversity (the Museum’s 19th century founders strove to collect and document the biodiversity of Staten Island; this scientific work continues today), and The Mastodon (a full-size replica coming through the Museum wall!).
We can learn about the natural world by studying fossils, collecting specimens to study interconnections and mark local changes, and taking action to protect species and prevent habitat loss. Understanding, preserving, and protecting our environment is a fundamental responsibility for us all.