- A-Z Animals
Elephants are the world’s largest living land mammals that belong to the family Elephantidae. These animals are identified by their unique appearance and characterized by a large head with broad, flat ears and long trunk, alongside their massive, columnar legs, long tusks, and tough skin.
Elephantidae consists of only two surviving genera Elephas and Loxodonta, while the now-extinct genera include Mammuthus, Primelephas, and Palaeoloxodon. The Loxodonta includes the following two living species:
The other genus Elephas consists of the Asian elephant that is classified into four living subspecies:
The African elephants have larger ears that extend to their neck, while the Asian elephants possess smaller, round ears. African elephants are characterized by rounded heads, whereas the Asian elephants have twin-domed heads. Both the male and female Africans can grow tusks, but only the male Asians have tusks.
Size: The largest living elephant species is the African bush elephant, measuring 8-11ft (247-336cm) at the shoulder. Asian elephants, on the other hand, are about 7ft 6in-9ft 6in (228-289cm) tall while African forest elephants have a height of 6ft 10in-7ft 7in (209-231cm).
Color: Elephants usually have gray skin. When they roll in the mud, African elephants have a reddish or brownish look. Asian elephants may have patches of depigmentation, especially on their ears and forehead.
Weight: African bush elephants are the heaviest, with the adults weighing roughly 6,000 kg (6.6 tons). Adult Asian elephants weigh approximately 5,400 kg (5.9 tons), while African forest elephants weigh 2,700 kg (2.9 tons).
Head: They have a large, resilient skull that can withstand the forces produced by head-to-head collisions. It is flattened at the back, forming arches that protect their brain in all the directions.
Ears: Their ears are characterized by thick bases and thin tips, while the ear flaps (pinnae) have plenty of blood vessels, known as capillaries.
Trunk: Also called proboscis, the trunk is a combination of an elephant’s nose and upper lip. It is a specialized appendage, consisting of about 150,000 muscle fascicles, some fat, but no bone.
Tusks: These are modified incisors located in the upper jaw, replacing milk teeth at about 6-12 months of age and growing continuously at 7 in (17 cm) per year. The smooth enamel cap of a newly formed tusk ultimately wears off.
Teeth: They have 26 teeth, including 12 deciduous premolars, 12 molars, and the incisors or tusks. Their old chewing teeth are usually replaced by new ones, six times throughout their lives.
Skin: The skin is strong and sturdy, being quite thick (about 1 in) on their back and head.
The elephant species are distributed throughout Southeast Asia, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. African forest elephants inhabit the central and western regions of Africa, while the African bush elephants are found in the eastern and southern parts.
African bush elephants live in areas like dry savannahs, marshes, lakeshores, and deserts. They have also been observed at altitudes of 8,000 ft. Forest elephants are found in equatorial forests, ecotones (transition areas between savannahs and forests), and gallery forests. Asian elephants, on the other hand, prefer living in places with a mix of low woody plants, trees, and grasses.
Elephants are long-lived and may have a lifespan of up to 60-70 years in the wild. A captive Asian elephant, Lin Wang, is the oldest elephant ever that died at the age of 86 years.
Elephants are herbivores, and they can eat 150-170 kg of vegetation on a single day. They usually have small plants, grasses, bushes, tree barks, twigs, fruits, and roots, spending 16-18 hours a day eating. However, major feeding sessions occur in the morning, afternoon, and night. Their favorite source of food is tree bark, which consists of calcium and roughage that helps in digesting their food.
Elephants are polygynous animals, meaning a male can mate with more than one female. During the mating season, a female releases pheromones in her vaginal secretions and urine, implying she is ready to mate. A male follows her and judges her condition by inhaling the scent of her urine or vaginal secretion.
Musth males take part in mate-guarding, where they defend estrus females from other males. During copulation, a male puts his trunk over a female’s back, and then he mounts her. Intercourse lasts for about 45 seconds but does not involve any ejaculatory pause or pelvic thrusting.
The estrus cycle lasts for about 14-16 weeks, and the female elephants experience a rise of luteinizing hormone twice during the follicular phase. Elephants have one of the most prolonged gestation periods among mammals, as they carry their young (remain pregnant) for almost two years.
Elephants usually give birth to one offspring (occasionally twins) during the wet season. After birth, a young elephant weighs approximately 120 kg (260 lb) and measures 85 cm (33 in) at the shoulders.
1. Are elephants endangered?
According to the IUCN Red List, Asian elephants are considered endangered, while African elephants are regarded as vulnerable. The ivory trade poses the biggest threat to elephants since they are poached for their tusks.
2. What is a baby elephant called?
It is called a calf.
3. Do female elephants have tusks?
While both the male and female African elephants have tusks, a few Asian males possess tusks. Female Asian elephants may have small tusks, which are called tushes.
4. How fast can an elephant run?
Elephants can move with a gait faster than a walk, and they can reach speeds of up to 25 km/h.
5. Can elephants jump?
No. Elephants cannot have all four feet off the ground simultaneously.
6. How smart are elephants?
Elephants are remarkably smart animals, as they have one of the largest brains (weighing 4.5-5.5 kg, 10-12 lb) in the animal kingdom with thrice as many neurons as that in humans.
7. What is a group of elephants called?
8. Do elephants cry?
Several pieces of evidence suggest that elephants do cry emotional tears, just like humans.
9. What is a female elephant called?
10. What is a male elephant called?