Elephants: The Largest Vegetarians On Land!

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Elephants are the largest animals on land; they eat a lot and need a massive number of calories daily. Although there are only three living species now, they are recognized as the Asian elephant, the African forest elephant and the African bush elephant. There are some special features of elephants, like tusks, a long proboscis called a trunk, large ear flaps, tough but sensitive skin and pillar-like legs.

The trunk is used to breathe, bring food and water to the mouth, and grasp objects. Tusks are used as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large ears assist in maintaining a constant body temperature and in communication. African elephants have bigger ears and concave backs, while Asian elephants have smaller ears.

They maintain a healthy ecosystem and play an essential role in their native habitats; they retain the rich biodiversity of the areas they share with other wildlife. In addition, though they are only in Africa and Asia, they hold meaningful cultural and symbolic meanings worldwide.

Elephant Facts for Kids
Asian elephant near small village in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand.

What is the Difference between Asian and African Elephants?

More many physical characteristics differentiate African and Asian elephants, like;

  1. Asian elephants’ ears are smaller than the African species’ large fan-shaped ears.
  2. Some Asian male elephants have tusks, while both genders of African elephants grow tusks.
  3. There are two distinct elephant species on the African continent, the savanna elephant and the forest elephant, with several characteristics that also differentiate them.
Asian Elephants
Asian elephants or elephas maximus in Sri Lanka during rut time

How Many Species of African Elephant Exist?

The African elephant was lately divided into two species according to new genetic research, the African savanna elephant and the African forest elephant, according to the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) assessment. As a result, the African forest elephant is currently listed as Critically Endangered, and the African savanna elephant is endangered. This is crucial because they face various conservation challenges in separate ranges and habitats throughout Africa.

How African Forest Elephants and African Savanna Elephants are Different from one Another?

African forest elephants live in the luxuriant rain forest of West and central Africa. In contrast, African savanna elephants mostly live in sub-Saharan Africa’s wooded savannas and grasslands. They also are different physically. African savanna elephants are more extensive, and their tusks curve outward. The tusks of the more miniature African forest elephant are straighter, pointing downward, and have more rounded ears.

How do Elephants Use Tusks?

Elephant tusks fit many purposes. These extended teeth can be used to save the elephant’s trunk, lift and move entities, gather food, and strip bark from trees. They can also be used for defense. During drought, elephants even use their tusks to dig holes to find water underground. An elephant trunk has around 40,000 muscles. Unlike a human has around 600 muscles in the whole body. They use their trunks to help suck up water for drinking, trumpet warnings, pick up or touch objects, and greet one another.

Elephant tusks are teeth that grow beyond their mouths. They are attached to the skull and have nerve endings like our teeth. Once a tusk is damaged, broken, or removed, it stays that way.

Elephant Facts for Kids - Elephant Tusks
Close up of an elephant with tusks, loxodonta africana

How Do Elephants Live?

Elephants have the most extended pregnancy duration of any mammal, lasting 22 months. Females give birth every 4 to 5 years. A gathering of elephants is called a herd; herds are family groups. Herds vary immensely in size, but their structure is always multigenerational and matriarchal. A usual herd is led by one female elephant called the matriarch. This matriarch is the oldest in the group. However, it unofficially leads the herd, consisting of most females, her children and other children.

Elephant herds have complicated social systems, are led by matriarchs, and are comprised of other adult females and calves. In contrast, male elephants tend to live in isolation or in small bachelor groups. Forest elephants’ social groups vary slightly and may comprise only an adult female and her offspring. However, they may gather in larger groups in forest clearings where resources are more abundant.

Elephant herds are a close-knit community. Members of the herd protect each other from wolves and ensure every member has access to food and water; the herd is highly protective, incredibly empathetic, and social. Yet, they are known to grieve for several weeks or even months whenever a beloved member of the herd dies. Whenever the matriarch of a herd dies, another female elephant, usually the oldest in the group, will take her place.

Males live in their herd while they are babies. They stay close to their mothers during infancy and adolescence. However, the males will leave their herd behind once they reach puberty at 12 to 15 years old. They will then either live and roam alone or live in a loosely small structured group of male elephants, or bulls, of roughly the same age. African elephants leave their initial family herds at around 10 to 12 years old. An Asian elephant has a bit later, at approximately 14 to 15 years old. The males only interact with other adult females through the female elephants’ mating season.

Once male and female are sexually mature they mate, then they will part and return to their herds. Alternatively, if the male lives alone, he’ll continue his bachelorhood until the next mating season. Male ones don’t play a role in raising their babies, but mothers will raise them in their family group, along with some help from their sisters. Once the baby elephant grow, the females will stay in the group. Meanwhile, the next generation of males will leave and repeat this process.

Elephant herds can range from 6 to 100; the size of a herd depends on various factors, like terrain conditions, climate, and availability of resources like food and water. In addition, the overall success of the past breeding seasons also affects herd sizes.

elephants,baby elephants LearningMole

What Is a Baby‘s Elephant Called?

A baby elephant is called a calf. Groups of baby elephants are called calves. Baby elephants, like many other species whose young are called calves, for example, the babies of cows are called calves. In addition, other large animals like rhinos and whales also have babies known as calves!

A newborn elephant usually weighs anywhere from 200-300 pounds and stands around three feet tall! But, as they grow, they rapidly pack on the pounds and will weigh up to 15,000 pounds when fully grown. Scientists say that baby elephant’s average; gain two pounds daily until they are fully grown.

 What Are the Fun Facts about Baby Elephants?

There are many interesting facts about baby elephants, like:

1. Baby Elephants Can’t Jump

A baby elephant can’t jump, not because of its size but because it can’t get all four of its feet off the ground simultaneously. So when running, they constantly have at least one foot on the ground; this is thought to promote stability in the animals.

2. Newborn Elephants Soothe Themselves By Sucking their Trunk

Many human babies suck their thumbs for comfort; a baby elephant does the same with its trunks. These amazing creatures not only do this to soothe themselves but also help them strengthen their trunk muscles and gain better control.

3. Baby Elephants Have to Learn How to Use Their Trunks

A baby elephant doesn’t know how to use its trunk. They have no control over their trunks, and even the lack of muscle tone makes them hard to control, so it must practice building strength in its trunks. Baby elephant learn how to use its trunks and strengthen them by playing in the water and swinging it back and forth.

4. Most Elephants are Born at Night

The majority (99%) of elephants are born in the evening. Scientists believe this is an evolutionary feature that they developed to protect their children from predators and facilitate a calm environment. They have even been known to delay birth when daylight is near knowingly.

5. Elephants are Born Blind

Elephants are developed mainly by the time they are born; however, their vision is not. Even adult ones are not well-known for their vision, but as babies, they are almost blind. Instead of depending on sight, they use their trunks and guidance from their mothers to guide the world.

6. Adult Elephants Cover Their Babies in Sand to Protect Them from the sun

Elephants flourish in savannahs, grasslands, and forest locations where the weather is hot and dry. Adult ones protect their babies from the sun by using their trunks to pour sand and dirt on them, which makes a protective layer on their skin.

7. Newborn Elephants Have Developed Brains

Baby elephants don’t develop once they are born after staying for nearly 2 years in the womb. They are born with fully-developed brains, so they can walk immediately after birth, though they may be shaky.

Baby Elephant Facts for Kids
Baby Elephant Facts for Kids

What Do Elephants Eat?

Elephants are strict vegetarians, so they eat leaves, bark, bananas, twigs, roots, fruit, flowers, etc. Generally, They eat anything green, so meat is not on their diet list; they eat an average of 150 kg of food and about 40 liters of water daily because they need lots of calories to sustain energy, and they walk for long distances every day (from 15 to 30 km), and they sleep for only 3 to 4 hours daily, and most of the food will not be digested.

Without digestion, the body will always be in an energy crisis, so it must compensate for that loss. They also drink lots of water to get hydrated; they may use water to control their body temperature.

They are the largest herbivorous animals on land. They are so peaceful, social, and proactive. They live in herds with a very close-knit community ruled by a female; a female elephant takes care of babies and supports them till they become independent in adolescence. They also have to eat a lot and consume water to maintain their energy level and hydration. Baby elephants are cute, soothe themselves by sucking their truck, and are born blind and born with a fully developed brain. Still, they do not have enough muscles, so they take time after birth to fully mature and become independent.

Elephant Eating Grass
Elephant eating grass in the Chobe National Park, Botswana.

If you enjoyed learning about this facinating animal why not check out more fantastic facts about other animals: Koalas, Land Animals, Sharks, Raccoons, Moon and Sun Bears, Rats, Chickens, Cats, Pandas, Monkeys and Whales.

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