Historical Society sends guests back to the Ice Age

Greg McDonald joked as members of the Marco Island Historical Society set up the screen for his slide show.

Greg McDonald, senior curator of natural history for the Colorado National Park Service, spoke to a packed room at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. After the presentation, McDonald answered questions from the audience.

Photo by NADINE OUILLETTE, Eagle staff

Greg McDonald, senior curator of natural history for the Colorado National Park Service, spoke to a packed room at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. After the presentation, McDonald answered questions from the audience.

While board members held a brief meeting before McDonald’s lecture on Ice Age animals in Southwest Florida, a map of the world appeared on a small screen in front of the packed room. That wouldn’t work, said McDonald, especially since everything from this age was giant.

McDonald, senior curator of natural history for the Colorado National Park Service, was the featured speaker during Tuesday night’s lecture on Ice Age animals. A vertebrate paleontologist, McDonald specializes in Ice Age fossils in western North America. On Tuesday, McDonald spoke to a packed audience about the unique animals that once wandered Florida, and how people could learn from their extinction.

“What goes on in North American influences what goes on in Florida,” said McDonald. “A lot of animals we find elsewhere in the United States once made their way down to Florida.”

Those animals include relatives of the woolly mammoth, an elephant like creature that once roamed in colder parts of the world.

“Woolly mammoths (were) not the most mammoth of mammoths,” said McDonald.

Instead one of the largest varieties of mammoths was once found in Florida. The Columbia mammoth, which inhabited the United States about 10,000 years ago, was about 13 feet tall and weighed nearly 10 tons. Mammoth teeth have been found in the Southern part of the United States, and McDonald said there is evidence that early Indians would hunt mammoths for food.

“Animals only got bigger as (Indians) came south,” he said. “(People) would have mammoth leftovers for weeks. Imagine the size of the refrigerator system they would have needed.”

Colombian mammoths weren’t the only large Ice Age animals found in the area. Think the armadillos digging up your garden are bad now, McDonald asked the crowd. Just imagine if they were the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, he said.

The glyptodon, the ancient relative of the modern armadillo, was flatter than a Volkswagen Beetle, but was about the same size and weight. The animal is believed to have been a herbivore, and could only move about one or two miles per hour.

“Did the (Indians) have glyptodon on the half shell,” McDonald joked during the lecture. “Well there is no good evidence that says (these animals) were hunted in North America. And I’m not sure that the Indians got involved in glyptadon tipping.”

Early people needed to deal with more than adapting to the changing climates, McDonald said. They also needed to deal with larger predators.

During a dig of Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, McDonald said paleontologists found evidence that saber tooth cats once roamed the area.

Most of the animals from this time period are extinct. While their extinction can be blamed on both environment and humans, McDonald said modern-day people can learn from the animals’ deaths.

Tuesday’s lecture, held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, was the first of the 2007 series. The next lecture will be held on March 3.

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