ICE AGE ANIMALS OF NORTH AMERICA more -->
During the Ice Age, when ice sheets covered large parts of North America and global temperatures were significantly colder than they are today, a diverse mix of strange and familiar animals such as mammoths, camels, and giant bears roamed the land. Many of those animals are now extinct but several survived and are still present in North America and other parts of the world. Scroll down to learn more about these amazing creatures!
SCIMITAR CAT (HOMOTHERIUM SERUM)
Several types of large cats thrived in North America during the last Ice Age including the scimitar cat, the saber-toothed cat and the American lion. The scimitar cat was similar in size to the modern-day lion but more slender, weighing about 150-250 kg and stood 1.1 m tall at the shoulder. It lived in tundra or open steppe environments, typically at high altitudes. It was fast, agile and could even climb trees. The scimitar cat was a carnivore, preying on large animals such as bison and young mammoths and using its powerful jaws and long, razor-sharp fangs to slice through its prey's thick hide. Interestingly, unlike most feline mammals, the scimitar cat could see well during the day.
STEPPE BISON (BISON PRISCUS)
The steppe bison was one of several species of bison that lived in North America during the Ice Age. It was larger than its cousin, the American bison, weighing between 700-800 kg and stood over 2 m all at the shoulder. It also had larger horns and a second hump on its back. Steppe bison primarily ate grass in addition to low bushes, shrubs and herbs, thriving in the grasslands across North America. Steppe bison were preyed upon by lions, wolves and humans and eventually went extinct about 11,000 years ago. They are the ancestors of the modern-day plains bison and wood bison.
YESTERDAY'S CAMEL (CAMELOPS HESTERNUS)
Most people don't know that camels actually evolved in North America! They spread to Asia and Africa about 2-3 million years ago, where they can still be found today. Yesterday's Camel (sometimes called Western Camel or American Camel) roamed western North America from Mexico to the Yukon, from about 1 million years ago to 10,000 years ago when it became extinct. This distant cousin of the llama ate grasses, leaves and other plant foods, and was larger than the modern camel, weighing about 600 kg and standing 2.1 m tall at the shoulder.
WOOLLY MAMMOTH (MAMMUTHUS PRIMIGENIUS)
The woolly mammoth is one of the most well-known Ice Age animals. It evolved in Eurasia and later crossed the Bering Land Bridge to North America. The woolly mammoth thrived in a tundra environment (cold and treeless with permanently frozen subsoil, marshy ground and low-growing vegetation), using its long, curved ivory tusks to clear ice and snow from the low shrub vegetation that it grazed upon. It was about the size of a modern elephant, weighing between 5500-7300 kg. Males stood at 2.7-3.4 m tall at the shoulder and females at 2.6-2.9 m at the shoulder. The woolly mammoth was covered with long hair and had a humped back. Along with many other Ice Age animals, the woolly mammoth became extinct about 10,000 years ago.
GIANT SHORT FACED BEAR (ARCTODUS SIMUS)
The giant short faced bear was the largest carnivore in North America during the Ice Age. It was more than 3 m tall when standing on its hind legs, and weighed as much as 700 kg! It fed on large plant-eating mammals such as bison, caribou, and horses, but it is not known whether it was a hunter or a scavenger. This bear lived in the mountains and woodlands of North America for about 800,000 years before it became extinct about 10,000 years ago. The giant short faced bear was the largest bear ever to have lived.
YUKON HORSE (EQUUS LAMBE)
The Yukon horse was relatively small, standing just over 1 m tall at the shoulder. It thrived in a steppe grassland environment and was among the most common of the Ice Age animals in Alaska and the Yukon. The diet of the Yukon horse consisted mainly of grasses, but it also ate poppies and other small plants. While the Yukon horse became extinct about 12,000 years ago, it is a close relative of the modern wild horse including the domestic horse.
CARIBOU (RANGIFER TARANDUS)
Caribou are hardy members of the deer family that have adapted to live in sub-arctic and arctic environments such as boreal forests and tundra. They are medium-sized deer with large hooves, which enable them to easily travel over marshy tundra and snow. Both males and females have antlers, but the females' antlers are generally smaller than those of the males. Caribou migrate to take advantage of seasonal food resources. In the summer they eat grasses and low shrubs and in the winter, they eat primarily lichen. Caribou were one of the few large animals to escape the mass extinction of Ice Age animals that happened about 10,000 years ago.
BALD EAGLE (HALIAEETUS LEUCOCEPHALUS)
While some of the animals that lived during the Ice Age are now extinct, many such as the bald eagle, can still be found across North America. The bald eagle can be identified by its white head and neck, which develops by the age of four years. The wingspan of an adult male is 180-213 cm across while the wingspan of females is slightly larger. The bald eagle weighs between 3-6.5 kg and can be found near lakes, reservoirs, rivers and marshes across North America as well as coastal areas. They are carnivorous, eating primarily fish and small mammals.
MOUNTAIN GOAT (OREAMNOS AMERICANUS)
The mountain goat prefers steep treeless terrain, and its thick white fur enables it to survive in very cold environments. It has thrived in alpine and subalpine regions of North America for thousands of years, eating a variety of plants, grasses and mosses, and was a valuable resource for early inhabitants. The mountain goat is small, standing 1 m tall at the shoulder. Adult males weigh between 70-120 kg and females between 55-75 kg. They still exist in North America today.
GREY WOLF (CANIS LUPUS)
Today, there are several sub-species of grey wolf that range in size from 100-160 cm in body length, 50-100 cm in height, and weigh between 15-80 kg. They are carnivores, preying on both large and small animals. Grey wolves are a very adaptable animal, and could once be found in deserts, grasslands, forests and tundras from the Arctic to the Mediterranean in Eurasia, and from the far north to Mexico in North America. Sadly, they have now become extinct or endangered in a number of areas; however, there are several sub-species that still exist today.
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (SPERMOPHILUS PARRYII)
Arctic ground squirrels are small animals (33-50 cm long and weigh between 530-816 g) that inhabit tundra areas of Alaska, northwestern Canada and eastern Siberia. They live in underground burrows and tunnels, in colonies of several hundred. They are herbivores, eating mainly seeds, leaves, grasses, mushrooms and flowers. Arctic ground squirrels hibernate for up to 7 months, from September to April. Their ability to lower their body temperature to below freezing helps them to survive the cold Arctic winter. They still exist today.
RAVEN (CORVUS CORAX)
Ravens are relatively large birds, measuring 56-69 cm in length, weighing 0.7-1.6 kg and have a wingspan of 116-118 cm. They are black in colour and have a wedge-shaped tail and can be found in almost all areas of the northern hemisphere, from the temperate regions to the cold arctic. Ravens are omnivores meaning they eat a wide variety of animal and plant matter, and are both predators and scavengers. They play an important mythological role in many North American and Eurasian cultures.