Diana Fidrocki Period A Elephants Elephants are incredible animals. They are imposing creatures in their environment. Though related to other mammals with similar internal organs, they have distinct features that make them extremely original. Each species of elephants has certain distinct features and each individual has its own personality. Elephant species have many features and behaviors in common. They are all from the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Probiscidea, and the order Elephantidae. They are all herbivores. They usually travel in families. They are all extremely large in size with trunks and noticeable ears. Their tusks are made of ivory. Elephants range from two to four meters in height and from three to seven tons in weight. Their coloring is always some shade of gray. In fact it is often difficult to distinguish certain elephant species. The elephant species that occupy Asia are from the family Elephas and the genus Maximus. They have large domed ears and relatively small ears in comparison to the African elephant’s, and one projection on their trunk that acts as a finger for scooping. They have five toes on their front feet and three toes on their back. The males have large tusks, while the females have small sometimes unnoticeable tusks called tushes. Asian elephants live in three areas Sri Lanka (Elephas Maximus Maximus), the mainland (Elephas Maximus Indicus), and Sumatran (Elephas Maximus Sumatranus). The elephant species found in Sri Lanka is the largest and darkest in color while the elephant species in Sumatran is the smallest and lightest in color with the elephant species found on the mainland ranging between the two. The Asian elephants are most closely related to the mammoth than the African elephant. Fidrocki 2 The elephant species that occupy Africa are from the family Loxidanta and the genus Africana. They have straight backs, large ears, and two projections on their trunk that act as fingers so that they can pick things up. They have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their back feet. Both the males and females have tusks. Elephants in Africa occupy the forest (Loxidanta Africana Cyclotis) and the savannah (Loxidanta Africana Africana). The savannah elephants are the largest species of elephants now in existence. The forest elephants are a darker shade of gray than the savannah elephants. Though they are of different species and environments, all elephants have a tusk which is a very important tool to them. It is large and powerful containing close to 40,000 muscles (estimated by Baron Curvier, a French naturalist), but it is also delicate and finite being able to pick up individual blades of grass. The trunk constitutes the elephant’s nose, upper lip, and nostrils. It is an exploratory organ that is used to sense food, danger, and whether an elephant of the opposite sex is sexually receptive. The trunk is also used for other important activities. An elephant can fill its trunk with water which it can shoot into its mouth for drinking or it can shoot the water over its body for bathing. An elephant can lift four and a half percent of its body weight which is on average about two hundred and seventy pounds. The elephant can also use its trunk as a snorkel when it is swimming in water. It can be used in play fighting, though never in an actual fight unless for intimidation. The trunk is a distinguishing feature and an important organ to their survival. Another important and distinguishing feature to elephants is their ears. First, their ears aid in their hearing. Their hearing is extremely perceptive (they can hear infrasound levels) and it ranges to up to four kilometers away! Their ears also work as communication tools. When presented with a dangerous situation, elephants will spread out their ears to make themselves Fidrocki 3 seem larger and more intimidating. A final use for their ears is to regulate body temperature. Elephants have a low surface area to volume ratio, so their large ears increase their surface area. Their ears contain a large amount of capillary beds so that heat can escape and they can cool their bodies. Elephant ears are an even more distinguishing feature because like human fingerprints, no two elephants have the same ears. Elephants have the largest adult mammalian brain. Their brain develops similar to that of humans and they are highly intelligent creatures. They have incredible memories and it is often said that an elephant never forgets. Male elephant and female elephant consciousnesses develop differently. Females are more likely to develop bonds with other females from birth and males are usually more nomadic. These consciousnesses help to develop their behavioral tendencies. Females generally travel in herds that are ruled by a matriarch – the oldest female of the herd. Herds usually range from six to twelve individuals, but can contain as many as twenty individuals. A herd constitutes the matriarch’s female offspring and their children. When the matriarch of the family dies, she is replaced by the next oldest female. A male elephant born will usually stay with the herd, but as he matures, he will slowly separate from the herd to travel by himself or with a herd of other males. When a male wishes to mate with a female, he will approach the matriarch’s herd and then leave off on his own or rejoin the herd of males when he is finished. Adult males and females generally do not travel together. Another distinct feature of elephants is that they experience human like emotions – they exhibit joy and grief. Joy can be seen when an elephant greets a friend or family member (elephant or not). In welcoming back the individual, the elephant will spin around, make trumpet like noises and roar. The same signs are exhibited by the elephant at the birth of a new baby or when they are playing. There have been witnesses to elephants laughing. Oppositely, they also Fidrocki 4 exhibit explicit grief at the death of a friend or family member and at the birth of a stillborn baby. Mothers who give birth to stillborns often slump over their dead child for a few days before moving on with the herd. These emotions show their social and emotional attachments to others. Elephants have an extremely large impact on their environments. They turn savannahs and woodlands into grasslands. Their paths act as fire breakers. Elephants also help out the fellow organisms of their ecosystems. They dig water holes in dry river beds and the impressions left by their footprints trap rain water so that other organisms can find water. When they walk through high grasses, it disturbs the insects, amphibians, and reptiles living there so the birds can find food. They occupy an important niche in their environment. Elephants are majestic creatures of imposing stature. They have original distinctive features that help contribute to their survival. They are highly intelligent and could even be compared to humans on some level. They are important to the survival of their ecosystem. Elephants are truly amazing animals.