Texas is a rich source of dinosaur fossils and Ice Age fossils, offering a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric past of North America. During the Ice Age, which lasted from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, the region was home to a diverse array of animals, including mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, giant sloths and dire wolves.
Who would have thought, right?
Though we may not think of Texas as an Ice-Age landscape, the relatively warmer temperatures and the abundance of food made the lower half of the continent far more habitable than the ice-covered wastelands of the far north. As such, animals we would never think of seeing today made their homes right here in the Lone Star State, just like we did!
Here are just a few of the animals that have been discovered in sites around Texas!
4 extinct Ice-Age mammals found in Texas
The most iconic of the Ice Age animals, mammoths were large, elephant-like creatures that roamed the Earth for millions of years. They were well-adapted to the cold climate of the Ice Age, with thick fur and layers of fat to keep them warm. Mammoths were herbivores, with a diet primarily composed of grasses, leaves and twigs.
The most notable collection of mammoth fossils in the region is at Waco Mammoth National Monument in Waco, Texas. There, the nation’s only recorded nursery herd of Columbian mammoths was unearthed between 1978 and 1990. These fossils include bones, teeth and tusks, all providing valuable insights into the mammoths' size, diet and behavior in this particular region of North America.
Mastodons were another type of elephant-like creature that lived during the Ice Age. They were similar to mammoths in many ways, but they had shorter tusks and a more stocky build. Mastodons were also herbivores, with a diet similar to that of mammoths.
The fossils of seven mastodons were uncovered in the heart of Downtown Austin in 1985 after a construction manager saw a huge, white tusk roll out of the mud. Though the site is now reburied underneath a high-rise, the research that has come out of such a discovery has been priceless!
Characterized by their long canine teeth which were used to stab and kill their prey, scimitar-toothed cats were some of the most fearsome predators of the Ice Age. A little smaller than the saber-toothed cat and with teeth a little shorter, this particular feline was built to run down and chase its prey, rather than ambushing it. They preyed on a variety of animals much larger than themselves, including mammoths, mastodons and sloths.
The Friesenhahn Cave is one of Texas’ most valuable sources of Ice-Age remains, including several skeletons of these cats from a variety of ages and sizes. The cave showed that these scimitar-toothed cats would dismember their prey and bring it back to their cave in order to prevent other predators from stealing the entire carcass.
Cats never change, amirite? Greedy little things…
Shasta ground sloths
Though the sloths alive today are more suited to jungle environments, shasta ground sloths of the Ice Age were large, slow-moving herbivores that roamed the hills and plains of Ice-Age-era Texas. They were adapted to a diet of leaves, cacti, plants and twigs and they spent most of their time roaming the dry terrains looking for food. Unfortunately, these giant sloths were not as well-defended as some of the other Ice Age animals, and they were often preyed upon by saber-toothed cats and other predators.
Sloth remains have been discovered in remote caves in Presidio County in far West Texas, though they’re not necessarily the types of remains you’d imagine. Back in 2019, archaeologists identified a unique find as dung from the Shasta ground sloth, a find which gave them essential information on the diets and lifestyles these ancient creatures had so long ago.
Though we often think of the Ice Age as this frigid, frozen wasteland a-la-blockbuster-movie-style, the reality is that Ice Age landscapes were full of life and greenery, even here in Texas! As the ice melted and the era came to an end, living conditions changed and the woolly-coated mammals slowly went extinct as food became scarce and temperatures rose. Today, all that remains are these few fossils and skeletons we find scattered throughout the caves and hills around Texas.
If you get a chance to visit any of these sites or are able to see a replica skeleton in person at one of the many museums around our luxury Dallas apartments, then remember that these magnificent creatures walked directly where you walk today! How cool is that?
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/RoyBuri