One reason dinosaurs capture our imagination is that they were so much bigger than anything we can imagine. But mammals have been large enough at times to shake the ground, too. Which was the biggest land mammal ever? For a long time, scientists knew it was Paraceratherium, a hornless rhino that could reach 26 feet in length. But maybe ancient elephants got that big, too. It all depends on how you measure them. Fossils of extinct animals are hard to measure, but Spanish paleontologist Asier Larramendi gives us an idea of how huge many species of ancient elephants were.
Larramendi selected elephants from various times in their 60 million year record. The very early Eritherium azzouzorum, for example, may have weighed 11-13 pounds and been a little more than half a foot high at the shoulder. From such a small start, elephants eventually attained truly enormous sizes. Larramendi calculates the largest Deinotherium weighed 13 tons and stood over 13 feet high at the shoulder. Others were bigger still. The mastodon Mammut borsoni, Larramendi calculates, would have weighed over 15 tons and been almost 13 and a half feet tall at the shoulder, and, based on some scrappy material, Larramendi estimates that the elephant Palaeoloxodon namadicus would have reached 24 tons and an imposing 16 feet at the shoulder.