Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.
This article is from
Journal of Creation 28(3):15–17, December 2014

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Woolly mammoths were cold adapted


commons.wikimedia.org woolly-mammoth
Figure 1. A typical illustration of a woolly mammoth, which had three types of hair. The outside hair was up to one metre long. Besides woolly mammoth skin having had oil glands, it was also discovered that the hair had adaptations for the cold.

The common perception is that woolly mammoths were denizens of the cold who lived during the northern hemisphere glaciation.1 However, some scholars have questioned whether they were truly cold adapted.2 Even though they had thick hair and small ears, adaptations to cold, their hair would have needed oil to repel rain and snow. Soaked hair would be disastrous in a cold climate. As late as 1982, an analysis of woolly mammoth skin failed to find oil glands, known as sebaceous glands: modern elephants do not have these glands either.3 New information has discovered that the skin of woolly mammoths indeed had sebaceous glands, and therefore woolly mammoths would not have had a problem living in a cold climate.

Warm climate mammoth hypotheses

The apparent lack of sebaceous glands is likely to have been responsible for the many hypotheses that place woolly mammoths in a warm climate that suddenly became very cold. Velikovsky advocated a pole shift from a passing planet, where a lower-latitude climate suddenly shifted to a higher latitude, thus freezing the mammoths to death.4,5 Hapgood postulated a crustal shift from low to high latitudes to explain the demise of the woolly mammoths.6 Walter Brown believes mammoths lived in a pre-Flood warm climate, but that those at high latitudes froze instantly and were buried in muddy hail at the beginning of the Genesis Flood.7 A lack of sebaceous glands for cold adaptation probably helped spawn his hypothesis:

“Mammoth and elephant skin are similar in thickness and structure. Both lack oil glands, making them vulnerable to cold, damp climates. Arctic mammals have both oil glands and erector muscles—equipment absent in mammoths [emphasis in original, references deleted].”8

Recent research indicates woolly mammoths adapted to cold

Recent research has shown that woolly mammoths did have sebaceous glands.3,9 One of the reasons presented to explain why these glands were not observed before is that the sample skin was too dry.3 Apparently, early researchers either had poor samples or poor methods of analysis. Repin et al. stated:

“Here, we present a documentary proof of the presence of sebaceous glands in the woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius Blum. … Thus, our study is a documentary confirmation of the presence of sebaceous glands in the hairy mammoth. Sebaceous glands are a sign of cold adaptation. The presence of sebaceous glands in mammoths is a convincing argument in the discussion of the question if mammoths really lived in cold climate zones.”10

Further evidence pointing toward the woolly mammoth’s adaptation to cold is in a microscopic analysis of their three types of hair. Extra rod-like medullae were found within the length of the outside hairs (about 1 metre long) of the woolly mammoth, as well as the woolly rhino. These medullae are likely to have strengthened the outer hair and helped it maintain its shape, trapping air, and resisting distortion.9 Tridico et al. conclude:

“These attributes probably prevented the long overhairs and coarsest guard hairs [middle layer of hair] becoming intertwined and/or matted. Matted hair is likely to be less efficient at channeling moisture/water and snow away from the body, which would have proved fatal in the depths of an arctic winter.”11

Early decay of woolly mammoth carcasses

Tridico et al. also found some microscopic indications that the carcasses they analyzed had already started to decay before being frozen, providing evidence against the quick-freeze theory that was suggested in the early 1800s by George Cuvier.1 The Birds Eye Frozen Foods Company had earlier concluded that the woolly mammoths must have been quick frozen at temperatures possibly as low as –100°C.12 However, post-mortem banding near the roots of the hair, also called putrid root, had already occurred, revealing that the specimens of woolly mammoths that were analyzed underwent some degree of decay before being frozen. Evidence of insect activity in the form of bite marks and hair lice sacs on woolly rhino hairs reinforce the evidence of some post-mortem decay. Variable fungal damage was also observed in the hair. Skin slippage, which occurs in the early stages of decomposition, also occurred.

We should not be too ready to accept the ‘data’

The evidence favours the notion that the woolly mammoth was cold adapted and lived in the mid and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere during the rapid onset of the post-Flood Ice Age.1 The rare woolly mammoth carcasses and other animals with flesh still preserved are more likely to have been frozen at modest rates, not instantly. A possible scenario could be the freezing of the animals during a dry, severe Arctic cold front with blowing dust that would bury or mostly bury them. Such conditions may have been characteristic of the end of the Ice Age.13

As creation scientists, we need to be aware of the pitfalls of evolutionary and deep time interpretations of data. Numerous paleoenvironmental deductions seem almost obligatory in technical articles about the past.14 Occasionally, scientific data is erroneous, or the reported data is of too small a sample size, or may even have been selectively reported, which was part of the problem for the claim of no sebaceous glands in woolly mammoths. Sometimes, an inappropriate conclusion is difficult to discern, as evidenced by the earlier reported lack of sebaceous glands in woolly mammoths. In such cases, and if there are contrary data, it may be necessary to defer judgment pending further studies. Nevertheless, creation scientists need to be able to adjust their ideas as further research becomes available.15

References and notes

  1. Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004. Return to text.
  2. Dillow, J.C., The Waters Above: Earth’s Pre-Flood Vapor Canopy, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1982. Return to text.
  3. Repin, V.E., Taranov, O.S., Ryabchikova, E.I., Tikhonov, A.N. and Pubachev, V.G., Sebaceous glands of the woolly mammoth, Mammothus primigenius Blum.: histological evidence, Doklady Biological Sciences 398:382–384, 2004. Return to text.
  4. Velikovsky, I., Earth in Upheaval: The Vivid Documentation of Cataclysmic Evolution, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1955. Return to text.
  5. Ginenthal, C., The Extinction of the Mammoth, The Velikovskian 3(2 and 3):1–303, 1997. Return to text.
  6. Hapgood, C.H., Earth’s Shifting Crust—A Key to Some Basic Problems of Earth Science, Pantheon Books, New York, 1958. Return to text.
  7. Brown, W., In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, Center for Scientific Creation, Pheonix, AZ, 2008. Return to text.
  8. Brown, ref. 7, p. 232. Return to text.
  9. Tridico, S.R., Rigby, P., Kirkbride, K.P., Haile, J. and Bunce, M., Megafaunal split ends: microscopical characterization of hair structure and function in extinct woolly mammoth and woolly rhino, Quaternary Science Reviews 83:68–75, 2014. Return to text.
  10. Repin et al., ref. 3, pp. 139, 141. Return to text.
  11. Tricido et al., ref. 9, p. 72. Return to text.
  12. Dillow, ref. 2, pp. 383–396. Return to text.
  13. Oard, M.J. and Oard, B., Uncovering the Mysterious Woolly Mammoth: Life at the End of the Great ice Age, Master books, Green Forest, AR, 2007. Return to text.
  14. Oard, M.J., Beware of paleoenvironmental deductions, J. Creation 13(2):13, 1999; creation.com/paleoenvironmental-deductions. Return to text.
  15. As an aside, I note that Velikovsy was good at pointing out the challenges uniformitarian scientists face in earth science. Unfortunately, he also had a penchant for exaggeration, and his mechanisms for catastrophes were implausible. One dealt with Mars and Venus moving through the solar system skimming the earth. Upon rereading Earth in Upheaval after 25 years, I was delighted to see how easily the observations that Velikovsky made could be explained by the Flood and the post-Flood Ice Age. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Life in the Great Ice Age
by Michael J Oard, Beverly Oard
US $16.00
Hard Cover
The Ice Age
US $10.00

Readers’ comments

Thomas W.
For Tas Walker:

Hi Tas, you wrote back about a week ago to me in response to some questions I had regarding Oard's theory on Mammoths.
You're short email attempted to rebut my questions by citing that mammoths are found in quartenary deposits...which you claimed were post Flood.
Anyway, I did what you asked in your suggestion of searching more articles on the site.
The problem with your rebuttal is that quartenary deposits is just fancy terminology for "loess". I found an article from Oard himself on the matter in which he discussed the origin of "loess" and that it had to be generated during the flood, and thus it would seem your comment is in error. Would you like the clarify and/or provide answers to my previous questions?
Mike Oard
Dear Mr. Wallace:
The mammoth fossils are predominantly found in Quaternary loess, the deposition of which I have suggested was laid down as mud during the final draining of the Flood. Then ice age winds reworked the mud into loess. The reason for suggesting that the mud is from the Flood is that in some locations, loess has sponge spicules and there is way too much of the material to be silt generated by ice sheet erosion.
I believe this is the most reasonable explanation, and that the woolly mammoths, found all over the non-glaciated parts of the Northern Hemisphere, are from the post-Flood Ice Age. For more information and more detail, you can get my book: “Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets”.

Michael J. Oard
Jeff C.
Someone in the Facebook comments made a reference to Woolly Mammoths having Anal Flaps to keep out the Cold. which they say you failed to mention. Someone else reference that it could have other uses in Warm climates.
Mike Oard
The focus of the article was on new information for cold adaptation. So, I did not focus on other cold adaptations, such as the anal flap. I suppose the anal flap could have a use in a warm climate, but I do not know what that would have been.
George J.
Thanks for a very informative article; but will you please explain why Velikovsky concluded "a lower-latitude climate suddenly shifted to a higher latitude, thus freezing the mammoths to death". I can follow Hapgood's logic but not IV's.
Mike Oard
Velikovsky assumed that the woolly mammoths were not cold adapted and much of his book, Earth in Upheavel, was trying to find a mechanism to explain the mammoths at high latitudes. His mechanism was for a planet or planets to be moving through the solar system (I think Mars and Venus), skimming the earth and causing all kinds of catastrophes.
However, the evidence is strong that the woolly mammoth really was cold adapted and the finding of oil glands in their skins and the special properties of its hair, the key points for believing in a warm climate, show that Velikovsky’s assumption was incorrect. The many mysteries that Velikovsky brings up in Earth in Upheaval have reasonable answers in the Flood and post-Flood rapid Ice Age.
Mark D. R.
On Mammoth cold survivability, the animals overall anatomy should be considered. All mammoths have two hair types, wool underfur and very dispersed "guard" hairs. Cold Arctic animals don't have shaggy leg hair, it would mat up and freeze. They do have low temperature tolerant appendages, oil glands and one thing more - ejector muscles, all which the mammoth lack. All observers mention that the mammoth "wool" is little different than modern elephants. (H. Neuville 1919 and others). Mammoths and elephants have a complex circulation system in their appendages, unlike the arctic animals of today. This suggests the mammoths (like modern elephants) had a uniform body temperature. This would not work in the arctic, as they would literally heat the ground under their feet, sink and freeze in place! Other temperate animals such as the Nutria (myocastor copus) have fur layers similar to the mammoth, yet live in temperate climates. Ferrets have been found buried with the mammoths, yet can only survive about 1200+ miles south today, supporting the fact that a lush savannah-like environment existed far North as the Bible teaches. For over 100 years no oil glands were found on the mammoths, and the Russian study quoted herein has yet to be confirmed and remains suspicious, the discovering lab a new group. In my book, The Noah Code, I show that mammoths are found buried high in the Himalayas (@ 15,000ft plus), the Andes and across the entire planet, supporting an end by the Flood. It makes little sense that God would allow these creatures to thrive by the millions and later wipe them out, as the departure Covenant applies also to the animals, as Genesis 9:10 states:"and every beast of the earth with you that go out of the arc." Truly, the Mammoth is THE index fossil of the Flood.
Mike Oard
The evidence is strong Siberia had much warmer winters early in the Ice Age (see Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004). The woolly mammoth had quite a few adaptations to cold climates, which it would have had to endure late in the Ice Age. There were three types of hair and there were special properties of the hair that were adapted to cold, as my article pointed out. At the end of the Ice Age, not just in Siberia, 70% of large animals over 100 pounds went extinct on North America, 90% Australia, 80% South America, about 40% Eurasia, and 20% Africa. The woolly mammoth was one of those animals that went extinct at the end of the Ice Age all over the Northern Hemisphere. By the way, I do believe that there were types of mammoths and mastodons that lived before the Flood and buried in Flood sedimentary rocks.
Peter P.
Have read elsewhere that some of the mammoths were found to have undigested buttercups in their stomachs, and that in order to prevent the acids of the stomach from breaking down those buttercups it would require rapid freezing of the animal. Question is; do buttercups grow in very cold conditions? Cheers
Mike Oard
Yes, buttercups were found in the stomach of at least one carcass. Buttercups grow in Siberia today. However, some of the vegetation found is from a warmer climate, which would have been the case in the early to middle parts of the Ice Age (see Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004).
I think the half decayed state of the vegetation in some woolly mammoth carcasses can be explained by strong cold fronts and intense blowing dust, burying the mammoth. So the cold would have come from the air, which would become colder than today in Siberia at the end of the Ice Age, and the developing permafrost that would rise up into the newly deposited dust (loess). Besides, the stomach of a woolly mammoth was mainly a holding pouch for vegetation,a nd the acids would partly break down the vegetation. Digestion would occur after the stomach.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.