Elephants are truly one of the worlds greatest animals. Majestic, incredibly powerful, they already hold the title for the largest, living land animal. But before we get into the nitty gritty detail of elephants, lets check out a few amazing elephant facts.
• Elephants are highly intelligent creatures, hence the saying ‘an elephant never forgets’
• Elephants have a complex social structure and demonstrate interesting and advanced methods of communication
• A fully-grown African elephant’s trunk is around two metres long
• An elephant can drink around two gallons of water in one go!
• When elephants wade in deep water they use their trunks as snorkels
• The classic elephant trumpeting sound is a warning sound an elephant makes if it senses danger
• Like human babies that suck their thumb or a dummy, a baby elephant will often suck its trunk.
• An elephant has the longest pregnancy of all animals – a female elephant carries its baby in the womb for a whopping 22 months.
• Elephants can live to around 70 years old
• An African elephant can weigh more than six tons
Most of us are familiar with African and Indian elephants, in fact the African and the Asian elephants diverged from a common ancestor some 7.6 million years ago.
However, these last two are usually just grouped together and known as the 'African elephant'.
The African Bush elephant is the largest of all elephant species and ranges over much of the savanna zone south of the Sahara. They usually live in grasslands, marshes and beside lakes.
The African Forest elephant inhabits the dense African rain forests of central and western Africa, although occasionally they roam the edges of forests, thus overlapping the savanna elephant home ranges and hybridizing.
2. The Indian elephant makes up the bulk of the Asian elephant population. The mainland Asian can be found in 11 Asian countries, from India to Indonesia and including western China. They prefer forested areas and transitional zones, between forests and grasslands, where greater food variety is available.
3. The Sumatran elephant is found only on the island of Sumatra, usually in forested regions and partially wooded habitats.
4. In 2003, a further subspecies was identified on Borneo. Named the Borneo pygmy elephant, it is smaller and tamer than any other Asian elephants. It also has relatively larger ears, longer tail and straighter tusks.
What do Elephants eat?
Even though elephants are the largest living land animal, they are entirely vegetarian, and eat a wide variety of grasses, foliage, small branches, twigs and various fruits. They tear at these, gathering them in their trunks, ready to stuff into their mouths.
The few teeth that elephants have (four at any one time with around 6 replacements sets during its lifetime) are used to grind the food before swallowing.
Once the elephant has lost all of its teeth it will be unable to feed itself and will die of starvation - usually at about 70 years of age.
Not surprisingly, elephants have enormous appetite. Night time and early morning and evening are favourite eating and drinking times, but elephants will also happily graze whilst on the move. They are quite capable of snatching at clumps of grass and leaves without pausing in their stride, or reducing their speed of pace.
Why do Elephants have big ears?
If you are a parent, then the question '...Why do elephants have big ears..? is likely to be one of many that your child or children will ask you. You will feel that you should know the answer, but as with many things in life - you will struggle to find a reasonable or even 'truthful' answer. Lying is usually the best coarse of action as this can avoid the embarrassing situation of appearing ignorant. But worry no more, as the answer to 'Why do elephants have big ears?' can be discovered below.
Overheating is a big problem for large mammals and as the elephant is the worlds largest living land animal, it's ears have evolved to stop them from boiling to death.
The enormous ears of elephants act as cooling devices. This works because their large ears contain an intricate web of large blood vessels that are situated just below the surface of the skin. As an elephant heats up, they pump hot blood into these specialised veins which allows the heat to escape into the air. Their gigantic ear flaps can measure up to 2 square metres and when the elephant flaps its ears, the blood temperature can drop by as much as 5 degrees Celsius!
The pattern these specialised blood vessels create in the ears are unique to each elephant and can be used to identify them, like human fingerprints.
Because of the high day time temperatures, hot Savannah-dwelling African elephants have evolved larger ears than their forest-dwelling Indian cousins.
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