By Adrienne Provenzano
Last December's artic blast got me thinking and reading about Indiana's geologic post--especially that most recent Ice Age that covered the top two-thirds of the state with ice as thick as a mile and drew to a close about 10,000 years ago. That was a time when mega-mammals like wooly mammoths and mastodons, giant sloths and sabre-tooth tigers roamed the state. They survived a cold climate for many generations, and once things warmed up and these species died out, their bones remained, waiting to be discovered many generations later.
Perhaps the most famous mastodon remains discovered in Indiana are those of "Fred" - an almost complete skeleton unearthed in a peat bog in Fort Wayne in 1998. "Fred" is now on display in the Indian State Museum's "Frozen Reign" exhibit. the ISM has a unique Ice Age Paleontology collection. But even "Fred" was dug out, mastodon and mammoth bones were found elsewhere in the Hoosier state. In fact, the discovery of such fossils in Angola, Indiana led to the then IPFW (now PFW) campus in Fort Wayne choosing Don the Mastodon as mascot in 1970, after professors and students identified the bones and participated in further excavation at the Angola site.
In 2022, the Indiana General Assembly voted to choose the mastodon as the official state fossil. Governor Holcomb signed the bill and as of July 1, 2022, Indiana became the second state (Michigan was first to do so) to select the mastodon for this designation. Several states - Alaska, Nebraska, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington - have chosen the cousin of the mastodon - the mammoth - as their designee. Another cousin of the mastodon is the elephant!
Nowadays, visiting the Limberlost includes enjoying the wildlife - a wide variety of birds, small and large mammals, insects, and more. It's quite common to spot the state bird - the carinal. Perhaps the next time you are observing such things you might pause and imagine mastodons, mammoths, and the other ancient creatures who once roamed these same grounds. It's not hard to do so when there's an icy chill in the air!
Adrienne Provenzano is a Friend of the Limberlost, Advanced Indiana Master Naturalist, and NAI Certified Interpretive Guide.