Proboscidea are an order of mammals instantly recognisable by their highly developed 'nose' or proboscis - a muscular trunk that functions as a fifth limb. The three modern elephant species are all that remain of these once widespread, large herbivores. Mastodons and closely related mammoths survived right up until 10,000 years ago, so would have been hunted by early humans. Proboscideans sport impressive tusks derived from the upper incisors. Used for foraging and fighting, these grew to spectacular proportions in the mammoths. The largest Proboscidea species ever, which was about 30% larger than today's African elephant, was probably the Songhua River mammoth.
Scientific name: Proboscidea
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Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
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The Proboscidea (from the Latin proboscis) are a taxonomic order containing one living family, Elephantidae, and several extinct families. This order, first described by J. Illiger in 1811, encompasses the trunked mammals. Later proboscideans are distinguished by tusks and long, muscular trunks; these features are less developed or absent in early proboscideans.
The earliest known proboscidean is Eritherium, followed by Phosphatherium, a small animal about the size of a fox. These both date from late Paleocene deposits of Morocco.
Proboscideans diversified during the Eocene and early Oligocene. Several primitive families from these epochs have been described, including Numidotheriidae, Moeritheriidae, and Barytheriidae in Africa, and Anthracobunidae[note 1] from the Indian subcontinent. These were followed by the earliest Deinotheriidae, or "hoe tuskers", which thrived during the Miocene and into the early Quaternary. Proboscideans from the Miocene also included Stegolophodon, an early genus of the disputed family Stegodontidae; the diverse family of Gomphotheriidae, or "shovel tuskers", such as Platybelodon and Amebelodon; and the Mammutidae, or mastodons.
Most families of Proboscidea are now extinct, many since the end of the last glacial period. Recently extinct species include the last examples of gomphotheres in Central and South America, the American mastodon of family Mammutidae in North America, numerous stegodonts once found in Asia, the last of the mammoths, and several island species of dwarf elephants.
The classification of proboscideans is unstable and frequently revised, and some relationships within the order remain unclear. As of 2005, at least 177 species and subspecies of proboscideans, classified in 43 genera, are recognized; the order is summarized as: