Amazing elephant anatomy

There's so much more to elephants than meets the eye

Share
Related Topics

With their dangling dexterous trunks, mighty tusks and tremendous ears, they look like fantastical beasts anyway. But the elephant’s amazing anatomy is more than just skin deep.

Trunk

The African elephant’s trunk, which is essentially a long nose and the equivalent of a human’s upper lip and nose, contains an estimated 100,000 different muscles (there are only around 640 in the human body!). They use their trunks for smelling, breathing, snorkelling, drinking, grabbing – and of course trumpeting.

The boneless proboscis are strong enough to kill a lion, but gentle enough to caress a baby elephant. They also have two finger-like members on the end of their trunks for picking up delicate objects. Cute.

Ears

African elephants regulate body temperature through their huge ears, which are about one-sixth of the size of their entire bodies. The ears cool down warm blood by filtering it through the network of tiny blood vessels found in the wide, thin surface area of the outer ear tissue. Cooler blood then circulates to the rest of the body.

Ears are also used for signalling. When an elephant feels threatened, it will spread its ears out to the side of its head, increasing its frontal area and creating a large and pretty intimidating-looking creature.

Teeth

The elephant’s tusks are extremely elongated, continuously growing upper incisors (the equivalent of a human’s front teeth), used for digging, tearing and fighting. Often, an elephant will use one tusk a lot more than the other - just like a left or right-handed person.

Elephants have a total 24 molar teeth during their lifetime, which grow from the back of the jaw and then slowly move forward as the teeth in front wear down and fragment.

An elephant’s life is limited by its teeth, because once the last molar has worn out it will be unable to chew its food properly and die of starvation.

Skull

Like bird bones, the elephant’s skull has lots of tiny air pockets to keep it light (relatively. The average skull of an adult elephant weighs around 115 pounds). This, plus particularly large neck muscles, allows them to eat and drink without struggling with an extremely heavy head.

Feet

Because of the way their feet are formed, elephants essentially walk on tiptoe. Their body weight is evenly distributed across the fatty connective tissue at the heel. This tissue acts as a ‘shock absorber’ and allows the elephant to move silently.

Skin

An elephant’s skin is extremely sensitive. Elephants will protect themselves from the sun and pests by wallowing in mud or flinging sand over their bodies, which will change their apparent colour from greyish black to the colour of the soil around them. 

Pregnancy

Elephants have the longest pregnancy over any other mammal – an astonishing 22 months (more than double that of a human, which is usually nine months). Baby elephants weigh up to 200 pounds at birth.


You can read more about our Christmas campaign here

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen at Derby day during the Epsom Derby Festival, 2013  

As an MP, I shouldn't have to swear allegiance to the Queen – I serve my constituents, not her

Richard Burgon
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor