Meet Advait Jukar, a scientist who studies fossil elephants Paleontologist Advait Jukar touches a fossil elephant skull while Smithsonian Science How co-host Maggy Benson watches. (Jennifer Renteria/Smithsonian/National Postal Museum)
Meet Advait Jukar, a scientist who studies fossil elephants
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Advait Jukar loved the extinct monsters of deep time as a kid. Some examples of these monsters are dinosaurs and mammoths. This is why he feels so lucky now. He gets to study these fossil giants every day as a paleontologist. He works at the National Museum of Natural History. Advait specializes in the study of fossil elephants and their extinct relatives. These include mastodons and mammoths. It also includes gomphotheres. 

"I love elephants not only because they're charismatic and have an incredibly interesting evolutionary history, but also because in many ways, they're like us. They live in complex social groups and exhibit a range of emotions. If we let the remaining species go extinct, that entire branch of the mammal tree of life is gone forever. I hope that never happens."

The earliest elephant relatives originated in Africa about 60 million years ago. They dispersed to every continent on earth. They didn't disperse to Antarctica and Australia. There are about 165 known elephant species from the fossil record. Scientists estimate that there would have been many more that we haven't found yet in this branch of the evolutionary tree of life. In Earth's more recent history there were 16 species of elephants and their relatives. This was between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago. The elephants were living at the same time around the world. There were at least seven species in the United States. Today, there are only three species of elephants that remain. These include the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). It also includes the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Populations of all three species are declining. Asian elephants are at a much higher risk of extinction.

Today's elephants are part of the order Proboscidea. It consists of modern elephants. In also includes their extinct relatives. These relatives include mastodons and mammoths. It also includes gomphotheres. All of the animals in this group have a proboscis, or trunk. They use it to eat. And they use it to drink. Today there are only two surviving elephant genera. These are the African and Asian elephant. Their evolutionary history is much more diverse. 

Paleobiologists like Advait use fossils to better discover new species of fossil elephants. They reveal what they may have looked like. They reveal what they ate and how they were related to one another. Watch a brief video to see how he does his work. 

Tune into a live webcast on Thursday, December 12, 2019. You will meet Advait. You will learn how he studies fossil elephants at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. And you can ask him questions.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think the most exciting thing about studying fossils might be? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (20)
  • 26mlhans
    12/10/2019 - 10:34 a.m.

    I think that the most exciting thing about studying fossils would be figuring out the fossil's story. Also finding out what kind of animal it was. It would the most exciting because you could make new discoveries and find out how life was many years ago. Also you could tell if the animal has changed since those times and whether the species has gone extinct.

  • 26jdmoli
    12/10/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    You can discover new animals,learn about them,and learn when they where extinct,and you can also learn about where they use to live when finding fossils,I would love if scientist would bring back the mammoths or other animals like mastadons back to life some how.

    • Audrey-E2
      12/10/2019 - 03:16 p.m.

      cool

  • 26drwhea
    12/10/2019 - 10:40 a.m.

    I think the most exciting thing about studying fossiles it that seing how old they are and relizing how far back this animale once was the fossile could be before we even were alive and thats just really cool finding fossiles from long ago.

  • Audrey-E2
    12/10/2019 - 03:25 p.m.

    this actuarial is about mammoths.mammoths are like us they live in groups and have strong emotions.the mammoths and there relatives the elephants are just like mammoths.this guy is studding mammoth fossil.what do you think?

  • BenC-E2
    12/11/2019 - 10:55 a.m.

    WOW! that is amazing I love mammoths they are so interesting.
    i do love going to museums. my favorite part of it all though is that he got to follow his dreams

  • Sarah-E2
    12/11/2019 - 10:56 a.m.

    One man named Advait Jukar is studying fossils of Mammoths. He has found many interesting things about Mammoths like for example the fact that Mammoths roamed the earth 60 million years ago. He said that he loved elephants not just because they are charismatic but because they have a unique history that not many people know about. I love elephants and mammoths and I enjoyed learning more about them.

  • BenP-E2
    12/12/2019 - 10:20 a.m.

    This is about a man who is a paleontologist. He finds out about elephant species that used to exist but is now extinct. I thought this was cool because I learned a few new things like that there are only three species of elephants living today.

  • CharlotteM-E2
    12/16/2019 - 11:54 a.m.

    I am interested to hear that there is 165 elephants maybe there will be more elephants next year. I think the most exciting thing about studying fossils would be learning new interesting facts because we get to learn new facts about the fossils like we learn a lot of thing at school.

  • 26klpetr
    12/18/2019 - 10:42 a.m.

    I think this story was a good one. I like when people want to study animals. I also like learning history and how it was and how it is know. I think studying that is a big part of history because your not just reading things that other people are saying your studying the animal to.

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