Elephants (Elephantidae) are a family of mammals from the Proboscidea order. In the past they were classified, together with other mammals of thick skin, in the Pachydermata order.
Elephants (Elephantidae) are a family of mammals from the Proboscidea order. In the past they were classified, together with other mammals of thick skin, in the Pachydermata order. This taxonomy is no longer accepted. Nowadays there are three species and several subspecies. Among the extinct members of this family we find the mammoth.
Male African elephants are the largest extant terrestrial animals. The gestation period, lasting 22 months, is the longest one of any terrestrial animal. Elephants weight around 120 kilograms when they are born. They usually live for 50-70 years. The famous Asian elephant Lin Wang, which served the Chinese Expeditionary Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War, died at the age of 86 in 2003. The biggest elephant known, recorded in Angola in 1956, weighted 11,000 kilograms. Its height was 3.96 metres, a metre taller than the average African elephant. The smallest elephant recorded was the size of a big pig, a prehistoric species (Elephas creticus) found in the Crete Island during Pleistocene.
The brain of the Elephant, with a weight of 5 kilograms, is the biggest among terrestrial animals. Several behaviours associated with intelligence have been attributed to elephants: altruism, mirror self-recognition, adoption, use of tools, compassion, etc. Elephants have been compared to other intelligent animals such as dolphins and primates. The biggest areas in elephant brains are those specialized in audition, taste and motion.
Elephants are classified in two species: the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). There are different subspecies, such as the Elephas maximus hirsutus (the Malaysia elephant) and the Elephas maximus borneensis (the Borneo elephant).
Elephants have a long truck or proboscis used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water and grasping objects. Elephant tusks are a source of ivory. Due to the threatens of poaching, tusk trade is illegal nowadays. Elephant tusks can weigh up to 120 kilograms and be 3 metres long. These tusks are not canines, but long incisors.
Big ears are another distinctive feature of elephants. The main function of these big ear flaps is the control of body temperature. Elephant ears are full of capillaries.
Elephants feed mainly on grass, tree barks and bushes (they can eat up to 200 kilograms a day).
Elephants display a great variety of sounds in order to express different emotions. The ‘trumpet sound’ , the most known of all of them, is used when elephants feel in danger. They also use infrasonic sounds that allow long distance communication. Elephants can communicate with seismic vibrations produced by impacts on the earth’s surface or acoustical waves that travel through it.
The skin of elephants shows creases and isolated concentrations of hair and bristles, especially around the eyes, the lips, the inferior jaw and the back. At the end of the tail elephants have some hairs resembling a brush.
Elephants live in herds and take regular mud baths in order to protect skin from insect bites.
Elephants have been associated with good memory. Studies carried out by Karen McComb at the Sussex University in Kenia seem to confirm this theory. Researchers studied communication between several elephants at the Amboseli National Park and came to the conclusion that elephants can recognize the call of more than one hundred different elephants. It seems that these calls, similar to a high-pitched groan, are part of a complex social network.
It is believed that elephants are scared of mice. But the truth is that elephants have bad eyesight. Their eyes are located at the sides of the face, what means that they cannot see properly objects moving in front of them. When they see quick movements, such as the ones made by mice, they get scared and aggressive.
Elephant graveyards are believed to exist because bones of elephants tend to be found around the same area. What actually happens is that elephants look for water before they die. That is the reason why elephants tend to die together.