Animal Tails: Ice age animal found in Ohio

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 Drawing courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources
 The stag moose is an extinct ice age North American mammal. Remains were recently found in the northern part of the state.

Last month, a backhoe operator stumbled on a unique find while digging up clay on a property near Medina, Ohio. At about 16 feet deep, the equipment brought up a partial skull and antlers of what looked like a giant moose.

Bob Glotzhober, curator of natural history for the Ohio Historical Society, said he got the call and knew what it was when the property owner described it.

"The farm owner said they found a brain case with about 12 inches of antlers attached," said Glotzhober. " I had a very strong suspicion."

The curator was right; it was a cervalces scotti, otherwise known as the extinct stag moose.

The North American mammal is a cross between the modern moose and the modern elk. It went extinct about 11,500 years ago, at the end of the ice age.

Glotzhober said this is the ninth time stag moose remains have been found in Ohio. Most of the previous finds have been limited to a handful of bones. The specimen found in Medina had 34 bones, making it one of the more complete finds in the state.

"While this newly found skeleton is broken in many pieces and may not make much of an attractive show piece, it is very valuable to science," Glotzhober noted. "We would hope to be able to obtain a carbon-14 date on the bones. Three of Ohio’s eight other specimens have been dated, and register at 10,230, 11,840, and 11,990 years before present. This one came from by far the deepest known site, so it may be much older yet."

Glotzhober said the creature found was a male. Only the males had antlers. In addition to finding out how old the mammal was, the scientists are trying to determine the cause of death.

Glotzhober said with the marks in the bones, he believes the stag moose fell prey to a carnivore. He believes it was one of four predators, that existed in the region at that time.

The suspects include the timber wolf, dire wolf, sabertooth tiger or the short faced bear. Glotzhober said they are ruling out the two wolf species. He said the animals were not big enough to do the kind of damage present in the stage moose bones.

He said the sabertooth tiger could easily kill a stag moose, but there has been no scientific proof that a sabertooth tiger ever lived in Ohio. Species were found in Kentucky, leading experts to believe the animal could have crossed the state line.

Glotzhober said the evidence is pointing towards the short faced bear. He said these predators were about 50 percent heavier than the modern day grizzly bear. They weighed between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds. They had longer legs, making then able to run faster.

There is evidence of one being found in Ohio.

The bones of the stag moose show fractures that were caused by a huge predator.

"We have to dry the bones, which is quite a process, but we are compiling evidence that will hopefully tell us more about how this animal lived and died," said Glotzhober.

The property owner where the remains were found has loaned the Ohio Historical Society the bones for examination. A female stag moose was uncovered in Stark County in 1987. It is on display at the Ohio Historical Society. Glotzhober said once the male stag moose remains have been studied, they may consider displaying them next to the female for comparison.

The Ohio Historical Society is a non-profit organization that serves as the state’s partner in preserving Ohio’s history, natural history and archaeology. For more information about its programs and collections, visit ohiohistory.org or call 297-2300.

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