Most people know that elephants are the biggest land mammal - but what other facts about elephants do you know? These gentle giants, both African and Asian, have intrigued and inspired people for centuries. From their intelligence to their unique bodies, there is much to know about elephants! Here are our favourite fun facts.
1. They’re Incredibly Smart & Can Recognize Themselves
One of the best-known facts about elephants is that they’re smart, with a brain that weighs 4-6kg (9-13lbs.) Much of elephant behaviour is actually learned, rather than instinctive. They can even look in a mirror and recognize themselves - something only humans, dolphins, and apes can also do. This shows a self-awareness that few animals possess.
2. Elephants Use Vibrations to Speak
Elephants can communicate by trumpet calls, touch, body language, and scent. However, they also send long-distance messages through low-pitched sounds that humans can barely hear. These sounds create infrasonic rumbles in the air and seismic vibrations in the ground, which other elephants feel through their bones and feet. These messages can travel up to 2 miles away.
3. Three Species of Elephant
We often hear about African and Asian elephants, but did you know that there are actually three species? There are African Forest elephants, African Savannah elephants, and Asian elephants. All three species are genetically different, with African Savannah elephants being the largest and African Forest and Asian elephants being smaller and more similar in size. African Forest elephants have straighter tusks and rounder ears than Savannah elephants and live in the African Congo Basin’s tropical forests.
4. Elephants Can Eat for 18 Hours per Day
Elephants, both Asian and African, are constantly eating as they need up to 150kg (330lb) of food each day. This requires them to eat for a large portion of their day - up to 75% of it. They only digest about 44% of what they eat, which is why they must eat so much. This also means they need a huge area of land to roam and feed on.
5. Elephants Are Lead by a Matriarch
For Asian and African elephants, herds are led by a matriarch. The matriarch is typically the oldest and largest female. She leads a multi-generational herd of females. Meanwhile, male elephants will often roam alone or form small, loosely associated bachelor herds. These males may sometimes follow the female herds but usually spend more time alone as they age.
6. Older Matriarchs Lead to Better Survival
Recent information based on over four decades of research has revealed how important the matriarch is to an elephant herd. Researchers have found that herds with older matriarchs have a survival advantage, as these matriarchs make better decisions that balance the needs of the entire group. During droughts, older matriarchs travel over larger areas - apparently because the matriarch can remember where to find more, rarer food and water resources. Older matriarchs are also better at gauging which stranger elephant family groups to steer clear of - likely because they can remember the various elephant family voices they’ve encountered in their lifetime.
7. Elephants Have Personalities
Elephants have different characteristics that create their personality. Researchers have identified four personality dimensions which are made up of 26 different personality types. The dimensions include playfulness, gentleness, leadership, and constancy.
8. Not All Elephants Have Visible Tusks
Elephant tusks are really just enlarged incisor teeth. These appear around 2 years of age and will continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks that are visible. Meanwhile, only some male Asian elephants have large, distinguished tusks. Most Asian elephants, male or female, will have small tusks which are called tushes - these only grow about an inch beyond the lip line.
9. Elephants Are Left- Or Right-Tusked
Like humans are left or right-handed, elephants can favour their left or right tusk. You can usually spot which one they favour, as one tusk will be smaller, with more wear and tear. Their tusks are incredibly important, as they use them to gather food, move and lift objects, strip tree bark, dig holes during droughts, and defend themselves.
10. Elephants Show Signs of Grief
Elephant families show signs of grief for lost loved ones. They sometimes visit the bones of a deceased family member for years afterwards and have been seen touching the bones with their trunks. Some elephants have also been known to linger around the body of a fallen loved one for up to a week.
If you love learning new facts about elephants, share them with friends and family! Spreading knowledge about these incredible, endangered animals is the first step in protecting them.
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