There are only three species of elephants living today: The African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant. While being clearly different from one another, all three share the same basic characteristics: mostly hairless big bodies, thick legs, long trunks and tusks derived from the upper incisors. However, this uniformity undermines the astounding variety of extinct elephant relatives, which are collectively called Proboscideans.
There were the famous hairy mammoths and mastodons, the enormous Deinotherium with downward-pointing tusks coming out of its lower jaw, and the long-faced Gomphotherium with not only two, but four tusks coming out of its mouth. Still, one of the most bizarre extinct proboscideans was Platybelodon.
Platybelodon has puzzled scientists ever since its discovery in the early 1920s. While the overall body did resemble modern elephants, its skull indicates something very different was going on. It had a very elongated mandible from which two long flat teeth protruded, forming a distinctly shovel-shaped appendage that extended far past the upper jaw. And since we don’t have any fossilized remains of soft tissue from Platybelodon, we also don’t know for sure if it had a normal elephantine trunk, or something different like a fleshy, flat upper lip that could work alongside the strange spade-like teeth to procure food.