Ann Arbor — The University of Michigan will receive the remains of a female mastodon found near Grand Rapids, thanks to a construction crew.
The workers were excavating a road through a planned housing development on Aug. 31 in Byron Township when they found the remains of the mastodon, a prehistoric relative of the elephant.
Daniel Fisher, director of the UM Museum of Paleontology, said in a news release that female mastodon skeletons are relatively rare compared with males.
“Males, by their lifestyle, tended to be solitary, whereas females tended to live in matriarchal family groups,” said Fisher, who is UM’s Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology. “It may have been easier to ambush and surprise a solitary individual than it was to ambush and surprise a group.”
The skeleton found last month is the third to be discovered since 2015, when Fisher uncovered a mammoth in a Chelsea farm field. A mastodon also was found in the Thumb region at the Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning in 2016.
Both also were donated to UM.
Mammoths were slightly larger than mastodons, which lived at the same time in Michigan. Remains of both have been found in the lower half of Michigan’s lower peninsula, but not to the north.
Fisher’s explanation for that: Glaciers receded earlier in southern Michigan, allowing the growth of vegetation for mastodons and mammoths to eat.
Remains provide researchers such as Fisher information about things like reproduction, growth, health and age.
“To understand the history of the extinction process, we need specimens that are males, that are females, that are more advanced in life and that are younger,” Fisher said. “And then there’s the dimension of geological time: We need specimens long before extinction, and then later in their history, just before extinction.”