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.
List of Common Types of Elephant Species
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:
African bush elephant
African forest elephant
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.
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
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
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.
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
What kind of Habitats are they found in
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.
How long do they live
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
addition to digging for salt and water, moving branches, and debarking trees,
their tusks help in defending and protecting themselves.
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.
Reproduction and Mating
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.
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.
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
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?
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
3. Do female elephants have tusks?
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?
can move with a gait faster than a walk, and they can reach speeds of up to 25
5. Can elephants jump?
Elephants cannot have all four feet off the ground simultaneously.
6. How smart are 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
7. What is a group of elephants
8. Do elephants cry?
of evidence suggest that elephants do cry emotional tears, just like
9. What is a female elephant called?
10. What is a male elephant called?
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.
In 1994, a female African bush elephant named Tyke was shot dead on the streets of Honolulu after she killed her trainer and went on a rampage.