Animal Info Elephants Physical Facts

About the physical facts of elephants including breeds, size, trunks, life expectancy, and skin.



The elephant's body is an unlikely compendium of superlative parts. Only the whale is larger than the elephant, which has the world's largest ears, keenest sense of smell, and heaviest penis (60 lb.).

The elephant's most remarkable feature is its trunk, an elongated nose (combined with upper lip) ending in ultrasensitive fingerlike protuberances, two in the African species, one in the Asiatic. Measuring up to 6 ft. and weighing up to 300 lb., an elephant's trunk is dexterous enough to grasp a peanut, yet strong enough to carry a 650-lb. log or to drag two tons.

Elephants use their trunks to carry food and water to their mouths (sucking up more than a gallon of water at a time), take a shower, gauge temperatures, feel objects, fight, and show affection. They also use their ivory tusks (actually gigantic upper incisor teeth, which grow to 10 ft. or longer) to fight, dig, and carry as much as a ton. Female Asiatic elephants rarely have tusks.

The African elephant is bigger than its Asiatic counterpart, with larger ears and tusks, darker gray skin, and a longer, more wrinkled trunk. The average African bull stands about 11 ft. at the shoulder and weighs up to 14,000 lb. The largest bull on record--over 13 ft. tall and weighing 24,000 lb.--was shot in Angola in 1955.

The elephant's life cycle is akin to that of humans. They are ready to mate at the age of 11 or 12, but they don't attain full growth until about 30. Their normal life span is 50 to 60 years. The African species has lived to be over 80 in captivity.

In the wild, elephants spend most of their time looking for food. Walking single file in search of new forage, a herd averages about 4 mph. However, when charging in anger or fear, an elephant can thunder along at 25 mph.

Next to filling its stomach, an elephant's biggest problem is protecting its virtually hairless skin from insect bites and the sun. Elephants' inch-thick, loose, wrinkled skin, which makes them look like baggy-pants comics, is actually very sensitive. That's why they constantly wallow in mud and toss hay and water over their backs.

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