some of the magnificent large animals (called megafauna) that
roamed North America during the Ice Age. Many parts of North
America beyond the ice sheets resembled a colder version of
the modern African savanna. Near the end of the Ice Age, many
of these great creatures became extinct.
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Columbian mammoth is one of three species of mammoths that roamed
North America during the Ice Age. The other two species were
the wooly mammoth and Jeffersons mammoth. The largest
Columbian mammoths were more than 13 feet (4 meters) high at
the shoulders, and weighed as much as ten tons (nine metric
tons). The tusks of the Columbian mammoth were up to 14 feet
(4.25 meters) long, and its washboard-like teeth were well-suited
for chewing grass.
The dire wolf was a powerfully-built animal with sturdy legs,
a broad head, and large teeth that may have been used to crush
bone. Similar in appearance and size to the modern grey wolf,
dire wolves were about five feet (1.5 meters) long and weighed
about 110 pounds (50 kilograms). The range of the dire wolf
extended to many parts of the Western Hemisphere. The remains
of more than 3,600 dire wolves were recovered from the La Brea
Tarpits in Los Angeles.
Mastodons were distant relatives of mammoths and elephants.
In North America, they were generally smaller than mammoths,
standing about 7-8 feet tall at the shoulder. Unlike the washboard-like
teeth of mammoths, mastodons had blunt, cone-shaped teeth
that were probably used to chew leaves and pine needles in
As its name indicates, the saber-toothed cat had large canines
that were up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) long. Saber-toothed
cats were about the size of modern African lions, and had
short, powerful legs, indicating that they probably hunted
by ambushing their prey rather than chasing them down. Remains
of saber-toothed cats have been found throughout North and
Harlan's ground sloth was related to modern tree sloths, but
were much larger, standing about 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall
and weighing 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms). It had very large,
powerfully-built limbs and claws. Harlans ground sloth
moved in an unusual manner, walking on the backs of its forefeet
and the sides of its hind feet.
The American lion was slightly larger than the modern African
lion. Their remains have been found from Alaska to northern
South America. It was a formidable predator with a powerfully-built
body and large canine teeth. The American lion probably hunted
large prey, such as the ancient bison and Western horse, in
open woodlands and grasslands.
The short-faced bear was the largest carnivore in North America
during the Ice Age. It was taller than the brown (grizzly)
bear, with longer, more slender hind legs, and a relatively
short face that was more reminiscent of a lion rather than
any living North American bear. In North America, the short-faced
bear occupied the high grasslands west of the Mississippi,
from Alaska to Mexico. In these areas, it probably preyed
upon bison, deer, and horses.
The muskox is a herding animal that adapted to living in very
cold conditions. It has long, dense, shaggy hair and large
horns that curve down close to the head then turn upward near
the tips. The extinct woodland muskox inhabited the plains
and wooded areas. Males were considerably larger than females,
standing 3 to 5 feet at the shoulder, and weighing up to an
estimated 900 pounds.
of ice age Colorado landscape © Denver Museum of Nature