I officially took last week off, although I spent most of it working from home. The Florida Museum of Natural History put together a traveling exhibit called “Tusks”, which is currently at VMNH. This Thursday I’m giving a lecture at VMNH as part of the promotion for the exhibit, so I spent my holiday working on slides.
My lecture is on the evolutionary history of proboscideans, so that gives me a chance to talk about one of the coolest fossil mammal groups, the shovel-tuskers. These were specialized gomphotheres which are known from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. A couple of species of Amebelodon are known from Florida, and the exhibit includes a beautiful lower jaw of A. britti, shown above.
Shovel-tuskers had elongate lower jaws with huge flattened incisors (the specimen of A. britti below is from FLMNH; a cast of this specimen is included in the Tusks exhibit):
Shovel-tuskers used to be considered specialist feeders of aquatic plants (which seems to be the default lifestyle for any extinct herbivore that doesn’t have a direct modern analog). The current interpretation, based on wear patterns on the lower tusks, is that the tusks may have been used to scrape bark from trees.
Unfortunately, shovel-tuskers have never been found in Virginia, and we don’t have any in the VMNH collection, but I can always hope!