Elephants are the largest land animals on Earth! These friendly beasts can be found in both Africa and Asia and are vital to maintaining the rich biodiversity of the ecosystems that they share with other species. Only 35,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants survive in the world, and of those, 15,000 are in human care.
You can find an elephant at almost any zoo & most likely you’ve assumed that all elephants are basically the same. But, Asian elephants are actually more closely related to mammoths than their modern-day African brethren. However, their genealogy is just the tip of the iceberg for the many differences found among Asian & African Elephants.
Just in time to prepare you for the upcoming Elephant Appreciation Day on August 22nd, here are our top 10 things that you probably didn’t know about these incredible giants of the wild!
- The elephant’s closest living relative is the Rock Hyrax, a small furry mammal that lives in rocky landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa and along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
- African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, and the females of this species undergo the longest pregnancy—22 months.
- Despite their size, elephants can be turned off by the smallest of critters. One study found that they avoid eating a type of acacia tree that is home to ants. Underfoot, ants can be crushed, but an elephant wants to avoid getting the ants inside its trunk, which is full of sensitive nerve endings.
- Elephants don’t like peanuts. They don’t eat them in the wild, and zoos don’t feed them to their captive elephants. Peanut-loving elephants are a myth. Elephants, Asian or otherwise, don’t eat peanuts in the wild, nor are peanuts a typical diet for captive elephants. In fact, most elephants don’t even appear to like them very much.
- The height of an Asian or African elephant at the shoulder is roughly equivalent to the circumference of their front foot multiplied by two.
- An African elephant can detect seismic signals to sensory cells in its feet and also “hear” these deep-pitched sounds when ground vibrations travel from the animal’s front feet, up its leg and shoulder bones, and into its middle ear. By comparing the timing of signals received by each of its front feet, the elephant can determine the sound’s direction.
- Elephants are one of only nine species that can recognize themselves in a mirror. Others include bottlenose dolphins, magpies, gorillas, chimpanzees and, of course, humans, but not until they’re a few months old.
- Elephants can get sunburned, so they take care to protect themselves. Elephants will throw sand on their backs and on their head to prevent them from getting sunburned & to keep the bugs off. To protect their young, adult elephants will douse them in sand and stand over the little ones as they sleep.
- Elephants have evolved a sixth toe, which starts off as cartilage attached to the animal’s big toe but is converted to bone as the elephant ages.
- Elephants are either left-tusked or right-tusked! The dominant tusk is generally smaller because of wear and tear from frequent use. Elephant tusks are ivory teeth that continually grow throughout the animals’ lives.
Want to learn more? The fun doesn’t stop here! Check out the links below to get a load of the world’s largest land mammal & discover more fun science behind what makes these mammoth mammals tick!
- Elephants of Asia at the L.A. Zoo – Fun Worksheets, more fun facts & great pictures of the coolest Asian Elephants on the Planet
- National Geographic Kids: Discover Elephants
- Weekend Science FUN: Exploring Elephants
- ScienceRay.com: Fast Facts: Elephants
Elephants have long played an important role in the cultural, artistic, and religious heritage of many cultures across the world – especially in Asia. For centuries, they have been revered in Thailand, India, China, and Cambodia. Elephant Conservation works to increase appreciation, amazement, and wonder for these great animals and to familiarize the public with the challenges elephants face in the wild, including their shrinking natural habitat. You can learn more about how to help save the Elephants by visiting the links below!
- Wildlife Conservation Society: Elephants
- World Wildlife Fund: Elephants
- WildlifeDirect: Elephant Voices