Q. Dear Twig: The mammoth. The mastodon. The saber-toother tiger. Where'd they live? Where'd they go?
A.: They lived in North America (and, in some cases, in other places, too) until the end of the Ice Age: about 10,000 years ago. Then they went extinct.
So did many other big mammals, like the giant beaver, Shasta ground sloth, American lion and giant short-faced bear.
Imagine! A beaver as big as a bear (the giant beaver). A bear even bigger than today's grizzly bear (the giant short-faced bear). A sloth the size of a cow (the Shasta ground sloth). A cat the size of a St. Bernard dog with Ginsu knives for two of its teeth (the saber-toothed cat, or saber-toothed tiger). Plus big honkin' elephant cousins such as the woolly mammoth and American mastodon.
All in our home, North America! All on land that you live on today — maybe even your own backyard! Imagine taking the trash out at night.
Next: Why you don't have to run!
P.S. Call them "megafauna" ("MEG-uh-fawn-uh"): the biggest animals of a time or a region.
Notes: Extinct North American megafauna, all of them too big to fit in a Prius or at least unlikely to try, include the stag moose, dire wolf, western horse, ancient bison, giant armadillo, scimitar cat, yesterday's camel, imperial mammoth and Jefferson's ground sloth. Sources included the American Museum of Natural History, http://www.amnh.org/science/biodiversity/extinction/Intro/GiantBeasts.html; Ice Age Mammals of North America by Ian Lange (2002, Mountain Press Publishing Company); Twilight of the Mammoths by Paul S. Martin (2005, University of California Press); Mammal Evolution by R.J.G. Savage and M.R. Long (1986, Facts on File); and the BBC's "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts."
About this column: "Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," a free public service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, both part of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. The reading level typically rates at grades 3.5-4.5. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, firstname.lastname@example.org, (330) 263-3776. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.