Imagine a whole family of giant elephants, some with fur, some hairless, all roaming various landscapes – that's the story of mammoths! Mammoths weren't just one kind of prehistoric elephant, but a whole genus called Mammuthus that existed for millions of years. The most famous type is the woolly mammoth, with its thick fur adapted for the Ice Age. But mammoths lived much earlier and in warmer places too!

The first mammoths appeared in Africa around 6 million years ago. These early mammoths, like the Southern Mammoth (M. meridionalis), were hairless and lived in savannas and woodlands. As mammoths spread across Eurasia and eventually North America, they diversified. The Steppe Mammoth (M. trogontherii) was a giant amongst them, reaching up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) tall at the shoulder!

Woolly mammoths (M. primigenius) weren't the first hairy mammoths. Columbian mammoths (M. columbi) in North America had a lighter coat adapted for a cooler, but not freezing, climate. Woolly mammoths, with their thick fur and impressive size, thrived during the coldest periods of the Ice Age. Even a pygmy mammoth (M. exillis) existed on islands off the coast of California!

Sadly, all mammoths eventually died out. The last woolly mammoths clung on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until a mere 4,000 years ago. While the reasons are still being debated, climate change and human hunting likely played a role. But mammoths left behind a remarkable legacy. Their fossils, including perfectly preserved mummies, provide a window into this lost world of giant elephants. From the hairless giants of the African savanna to the iconic woolly mammoths of the Ice Age, mammoths continue to capture our imagination.