Elephant

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.

Elephant Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Proboscidea
Elephantidae

List of Common Types of Elephant Species

Elephantidae consists of only two surviving genera Loxodonta and Elephas, while the now-extinct genera include Mammuthus, Primelephas, and Palaeoloxodon. The Loxodonta comprises two living species, the African forest elephant and the African bush elephant. The other genus Elephas consists of the Asian elephant.

Elephant

Physical Description and Appearance

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.

Elephant Teeth

Skin: The skin is strong and sturdy, being quite thick (about 1 in) on their back and head.

Elephant Skin

Distribution

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.

What kind of Habitats are they found in

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.

Elephant Habitat

How long do they live

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.

What do they eat

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.

Elephant Animal

Behavior

  • They can move both in the forward and backward directions, but do not jump, trot, or gallop. When they move on land, elephants use two gaits, including the walk and a motion that is similar to running.
  • Elephants usually rest under trees at noon and may take a nap while standing. They sleep for about 3-4 hours per day while lying down at night.
  • Elephant herds have been observed to seasonally migrate hundreds of kilometers in search of water, food, and mates. When waterholes dry up, elephants approximately travel 325 km to go to the river at Chobe National Park in Botswana.
  • Females generally live in matrilineal family groups (a social group in which the descendants come from a single female ancestor) led by the oldest female elephant, or matriarch who plays an essential role in coordinating the group.
  • During maturity, males spend most of the time at the edge of their group, interacting with outside males or other families. When fully matured, they are either solitary or live with other males.
  • Males become highly aggressive during musth, a condition characterized by an increased secretion of reproductive hormones. Indian elephants enter a state of intense musth only when they are over 25 years of age.
  • Elephants stroke or wrap their trunks to greet each other. This behavior is also observed during mild competition. They use kicks, shoves, and trunk-slaps to discipline their younger ones.
  • They produce different sounds through their larynx, blowing through their trunk to create the ‘trumpet’ during distress, excitement, or aggression. Wounded elephants may bellow while the fighting ones may squeal or roar.

Adaptations

  • Their skull consists of several air cavities that help lessen the skull’s weight and maintain overall strength. It is because of these cavities, the inside of their skull looks like a honeycomb.
  • Their ear flaps comprise several blood capillaries, which help release excess heat into the surrounding. African bush elephants inhabit some of the hottest places in the world and possess large ear flaps.
  • The trunk or proboscis makes twisting and coiling movements possible, allowing them to lift heavier loads and fight with other elephants. It is also used for performing delicate tasks like checking an opening, cracking a peanut, or wiping an eye.
  • In addition to digging for salt and water, moving branches, and debarking trees, their tusks help in defending and protecting themselves.
  • Elephants have vertically-positioned limbs that help in supporting their weight. The position of their leg bones also helps them in standing still for a long time without using much energy.
Female Elephant

Reproduction and Mating

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.

What do the Baby Elephants look like

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.

Elephant Baby

Elephant-FAQs

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?

A herd

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?

A cow

10. What is a male elephant called?

A bull

Elephant Skeleton

Interesting Facts

  • Elephants are efficient swimmers and can swim for six hours at a stretch. Some have been recorded to travel about 48 km at speeds of 2.1 km/h.
  • An elephant’s skeleton consists of 326-351 bones, with the ribs of African and Asian species having 21 pairs and 20 pairs of ribs, respectively.
  • Their tusks, being made of living tissues, are relatively soft and are only as hard as calcite (the common form of calcium carbonate).
  • Elephants are typically left- or right-tusked, a trait similar to humans who are generally left- or right-handed. The dominant tusk or the master tusk usually is more worn down.
  • They have regular mud baths for protecting their skin from getting a sunburn, avoiding insect bites, and lessening moisture loss.
  • When standing, an elephant’s heart rate is roughly 30 beats per minute. However, it increases to 38-40 beats per minute when the elephant is in a lying position.