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Interesting Facts About Elephants

Updated on February 20, 2012

I didn't wake up that morning thinking I was going to take a ride on the back of a giant, it just turned out that way. It was a two day ride, an adventure of a life-time, that allows me to say:

"I've felt the spiny back and felt the hairy knee of the elephant who looked me in the eye and said she liked me."

The fact that the humongous fat elephant's back was spiny and uncomfortable, combined with the shock that it's knees are hairy, were both revelations that quickly led me on a journey of discovery once the elephant trek was over. Learning about the order of hoofed mammals -- the Proboscidea -- which include elephants and their ancestors, the mammoths and the mastodons, is a fascinating walk in the shadow of giants.

The elephant is wonderful in many respects. It's long, flexible trunk is extremely useful, for it serves as a kind of hand and arm, strong, yet capable of delicate "fingering," too. The trunk is really a prolonged upper lip and nose. The two nostrils run the whole length of it. They are surrounded by a marvelous construction of muscles.

The trunk is tough on its outer side, so tough that the animal can push heavy things over with it. However, at the same time it is delicate on its underside, and the animal is careful not to deliver too hard a blow, when using the trunk as a striking weapon.

It is not used for eating, of course, though you sometimes still hear the myth that a baby elephant takes its milk through the trunk. That's not true. An elephant does draw water up its trunk and then squirts the water into its mouth. Grains and similar food it may take in the same way.

The eye of an Asian Elephant
The eye of an Asian Elephant | Source
Elephant eye (San Diego Zoo)
Elephant eye (San Diego Zoo) | Source


The elephant's eyes are small compared to the whole of the mammal. It is true that it's vision is poor, but as often with nature, it's other senses are acutely wonderful when it comes to hearing and smell.

Additionally the elephant is the biggest land animal today. The elephant's great size is possible because the heavy body is well supported on massive, strong, straight legs, ending in broad feet with pads on the soles that cushion the beast from the shock of its own weight.

The number of toes on elephants varies with the type of elephant. The skin of the elephant is thick and tough and lies in loose folds in places.

Most of us are familiar with the term "pachyderm" That word is from the Greek words for thick and skin.

Elephant Tusk - Elephant in Tanzania, African Elephant
Elephant Tusk - Elephant in Tanzania, African Elephant | Source
Mammoth Elephant Tooth
Mammoth Elephant Tooth | Source

A Toothy Matter

The elephant's teeth are very strange. There are no front teeth, or incisors, at all. However, two front teeth, the second upper incisors, grow out in the form of tusks, on some species of elephants.

The tusk material is hard dentine, and once was valued by man since early days. My generation was quite familiar with ivory or ivory plated decorations and objects, but today it has been replaced for good reason by plastics.

Still, most of us today have at least heard of ivory, which is now illegal to sell or buy, except antique ivory objects -- to stop endangering this wonderful mammals by taking their tusks and costing them their lives.

The elephants grinding teeth or molars, come in, one after another as though they were on the rim of a wheel. Each too, as it wears away, travels forward in the jaw, and finally drops out and the one next behind moves upward and forward to take its place.

If the animal lives out its normal life, six such teeth follow such a course on each side of the upper and lower jaws. These teeth are flat on top, with fifteen or twenty small ridges of hard enamel crossing them.

An elephant eye
An elephant eye | Source

Elephant Park and Dine

Elephants spend much of their lives in eating. They eat grass, but seem to prefer leaves and twigs, and often break down good-sized trees in the wild in order to reach the foliage.

They rest generally through the heat of the day. Their usual gait is a walk, and they can travel many miles in a night, which is when they prefer to be on the move.

When in a hurry, they shuffle along at a good clip, however they never gallop. They are able to go up and down steep banks which a horse would be unable to climb, but they cannot jump, so a ditch too wide for them to step across will confine them.

Elephants love water and bathe and splash with every sign of true enjoyment.

Mother and Baby Elephants
Mother and Baby Elephants | Source

Mommy Love

A mother elephant has one young at a birth.  The babies are often covered with coarse black hair.  Their little trunks, which are only about a foot long, hang limply down, for the baby does not have the muscular control of its trunk until it is older.

The mother takes good care of her baby, nursing it on milk for its first two years, and tenderly watching over the young one for another two years.

Performing Elephant in Circus - Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F010223-0007 / Unterberg, Rolf / CC-BY-SA
Performing Elephant in Circus - Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F010223-0007 / Unterberg, Rolf / CC-BY-SA | Source

Elephant Myths

There are many myths about these wonderful mammals. Some of them were deliberate fabrications of truths, often in the advertising of circuses of old. They use to exaggerate the age of their elephants, for example, but other myths surround elephants.

One myth often told in the past is about "elephant graveyards." The story was that anyone find this spot can become rich from the great quantity of ivory found there. That myth was told both in Africa and Asia. There is no truth in it.

Like all animals, the elephant, if not feeling well, and unable to keep up with the herd, finds a secluded pot in which to die. This spot was often thick cover where vines and other vegetation will soon grow over the bones left by the animals, birds, and insects after they have eaten the deceased elephants meat.

Another myth surrounding the fact that "elephants never forget" is actually true. It's rooted in the size of the elephant's brain -- just like with humans, generally the bigger the brain, the better the cognitive powers and memory.

Elephants are said to be have to mentally map their environment, which in terms of size could be compared to certain small states, such as Rhode Island. Also, elephants who were once together, then separated for sometimes decades, will recognize each other upon reintroduction, often with great joy and glee.

Technically speaking, there is no such thing as a "pygmy elephant." Over the years, the few animals that have been shown off as pygmy elephants, just turned out to be young bush elephants.

Heads of Asian and African Elephants
Heads of Asian and African Elephants | Source

Differences In Elephants

Of the elephants of today, the Indian or Asiatic elephant is the one best known. He is the one most frequently seen in circuses and zoos. In the wild, these elephants generally had herds of about twenty to thirty or even larger -- all related, with families staying together. They preferred thick cover, and fed upon grass, leaves and fruits, and were especially fond of tender shoots of bamboo. They are very fond of water and are excellent swimmers.

African elephants differ in appearance from the Asiatic elephants in a number of ways. The great ears of the African elephant are about three times the size of those of the Asiatic. Generally, the Asiatic elephant has five toes on the forefoot and four on the hind, while the African has but three toes on the hind foot.

There is a finger-like process on both the front and hind edges on the tip of the trunk of the African elephant, while the Asiatic has this process only on the front edge.

Did You Know?

Elephants are the only animals that can't jump.


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    • urgurl_bri profile image

      Brandi Swieter 5 years ago from Holland, MI

      Great hub. Very interesting to read. I loved the layout and all of the pictures. voted up!

    • Cashbackshopper profile image

      Cashbackshopper 6 years ago

      I have always admired them for their great memory.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks prasetio30! Hope your students find it enjoyable.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I learn much from this hub. I'll show this to my students. I believe they will love this. Thanks for brought the knowledge about elephant. Good work, my friend. Thumbs up for you. ~prasetio

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks Tom_Radford!

      Thanks triosol!

    • triosol profile image

      triosol 7 years ago

      Interesting Hub. Very Informative. Great Work

    • Tom_Radford profile image

      Tom_Radford 7 years ago from London

      Good stuff. I saw a documentary about an elephant graveyard, one of the matriach's kept returning there, it was a place strewn with hundreds of elephant bones and she gently held some of them as if remembering dead friends. For the most part I agree that generally they just go somewhere and die, but there are exceptions as with eveything. Elephants are one of those animals you just can't help but like!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks Idparker10!

      Thanks Theherbivorehippi!

      Thanks hurdlesgreetings

    • hurdlesgreetings profile image

      hurdlesgreetings 7 years ago

      This was a very interesting Hub. Elephants are such innocent animals. The information you have provided has made me see them in a different light. Thank you so much for sharing

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      This was a real great read!! I adore elephants. There is an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee I'm dying to go to if I can ever afford the $2000 donation it takes to get in the doors. lol They are such remarkable creatures. Fabulous hub! RAted up!

    • ldparker10 profile image

      ldparker10 7 years ago

      awesome hub. loving elephants!!!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      thanks ankigarg87!

    • profile image

      ankigarg87 7 years ago

      Very nice and informative hub.thanks for writing this type of knowledgeable hub

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks enchanted13! Their intelligence is amazing.

      Thanks Eiddwen! Elephants are very photogenic.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

      Thank you for this brilliant hub. Pictures were also beautiful.

    • enchanted13 profile image

      enchanted13 7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Great hub! I absolutely love elephants and think they are extremely intelligent creatures with a great capacity to love and care for their offspring and other family members in their herd.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hello, hello.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A comprehensive information and very well written . I enjoyed reading your hub.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks nikitha!

      Thanks tas laptop!

    • profile image

      tas laptop 7 years ago

      elephant is a most incredible creature with a high socialact

    • nikitha p profile image

      nikitha p 7 years ago from India

      Great hub and very interesting . I liked it.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks Peter Dickinson! I take that as a wonderful compliment because I know you know your zoo and animal stuff.

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

      Great hub and very informatitive. I have been a elephant keeper in times gone by. They probably are my favourite animal.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks fundamentalife!

    • fundamentallife profile image

      fundamentallife 7 years ago

      Thank you for this beautiful story, Jerilee. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks diogenes! ha ha Bob, I was saving that for you to say.

    • profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago

      But you didn't mention the most important "facts" about them!

      "The elephant is a graceful bird, it flies from bough to bough;

      It makes its nest in a rheubarb tree,

      And whistles like a cow."

      Good article: love elephants...Bob

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks soumyasrajan! Your comments added a lot of value to my article, and I think you so much for sharing that.

    • profile image

      soumyasrajan 7 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Hi! Jerilee

      Enjoyed your article very much. You have written with so many admirable details. Elephants are so pleasing and intelligent animals. Some months back in Assam a state in India, an elephant got killed by a train accident. After that for two days, whole herd of elephants, 15-20 was protesting on railway tracks there, blocking movements of trains. Almost like a strike of protest by human beings.

      I remember some years back, I was staying in Allahabad, a town in North India. There was a water tap on footpath visible from my office window. I used to see often in the afternoon a tame elephant will come there, rotate nozzle to open the water tap with his trunk, drink water and rotate it back to stop. His owner did not even have to even get down.

      In India also people are worried about trouble elephants are facing in several parts because of loss of their habitat.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks dahoglund! It certainly led to the lost of many elephants in the past and sadly even now poachers of what is left of the wild elephant population seems to be a problem. Loss of habitat, however, is the biggest threat of all.

      Thanks alekhouse! I bet that was a memory you'll treasure for a lifetime.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont


      I love this hub. Thanks. I am a big animal lover and that goes for elephants big time. I spent a few days at an elephant sanctuary in Africa a few years back and it was amazing. They are wonderful, caring and very family oriented.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Nice background on the elephant.It was a bad thing to kill these animals merely to harvest the ivory.