They’re the world’s largest land animal
The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal – with males on average measuring up to 3m high and weighing up to 6 tonnes. Males only reach their full size at 35-40 years – that’s well over half their lifespan as wild elephants can live for up to 60-70 years. And it’s not just the adults – even calves are huge! At birth elephants can weigh 120kg – that’s almost 19 stone.
You can tell the two species apart by their ears
There are two species of elephant: African and Asian. The ears of African elephants are much larger than their cousins and are described as being shaped like the African continent, whereas the ears of Asian elephants are shaped like the Indian subcontinent. There’s also a trunk difference – African elephants have two ‘fingers at the tip of their trunks, whereas Asian elephants have one.
Their trunks have mad skills
Elephants have around 150,000 muscle units in their trunk. Their trunks are perhaps the most sensitive organ found in any mammal – Asian elephants have been seen to pick up a peanut, shell it, blow the shell out and eat the nut. Elephants use their trunks to suck up water to drink – it can contain up to 8 liters of water. They also use their trunks as a snorkel when swimming.
Their tusks are actually teeth
Elephant tusks are actually enlarged incisor teeth that first appear when elephants are around 2 years old. Tusks continue growing throughout their lives. Tusks are used to help with feeding – prising bark off trees or digging up roots – or as a defense when fighting. But these beautiful tusks often cause elephants danger. They’re made from ivory; a much-desired object. Read on to find out why elephants are under threat.
They’ve got thick skin
An elephant’s skin is 2.5cm thick in most places. The folds and wrinkles in their skin can retain up to 10 times more water than flat skin does, which helps to cool them down. They keep their skin clean and protect themselves from sunburn by taking regular dust and mud baths.
Elephants are constantly eating
Elephants need up to 150kg of food per day – that’s around 375 tins of baked beans although half of this may leave the body undigested. They eat so much that they can spend up to three-quarters of their day eating.
They communicate through vibrations
Elephants communicate in a variety of ways – including sounds like trumpet calls (some sounds are too low for people to hear), body language, touch, and scent. They can also communicate through seismic signals – sounds that create vibrations in the ground – which they may detect through their bones.
Calves can stand within 20 minutes of birth
Amazingly, elephant calves are able to stand within 20 minutes of being born and can walk within 1 hour. After two days, they can keep up with the herd. This incredible survival technique means that herds of elephants can keep migrating to find food and water to thrive.
An elephant never forgets
The elephant’s temporal lobe (the area of the brain associated with memory) is larger and denser than that of people – hence the saying ‘elephants never forget.