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Elephant Facts and a Free Printable Lesson

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Did you know elephants communicate through the ground? Learn more elephant facts, plus download the free printable lesson.

Elephant Facts and a Free Printable Lesson

Elephant Facts – Seismic Communication

Elephants have large vocal cords, and when they communicate with other elephants, they make a noise. This noise sends out waves through the air and the ground. Other elephants can hear the sounds with their ears and feel the sound waves with their feet as the waves travel through the ground.

Elephant facts about elephant feet and sense of hearing
There are special receptors in the feet of elephants called Pacinian corpuscles. You and I have Pacinian corpuscles too. These sensors send signals to the brain to help us process what we are feeling.

Elephant Facts – Elephant Feet

Some elephants weigh between 2 and 7 tons. Plus, they spend a lot of time standing and walking long distances. Elephants have a pad of gristle on the bottom of their feet that acts like a shock absorber.

Elephant Facts – The Taxonomy of Elephants

Before we get into more elephant facts, let’s look at the taxonomy of these mammals.

Also, don’t forget to DOWNLOAD THE FREE LESSON AND WORKSHEETS that go along with this post. You can request this free lesson at the bottom of this article.

Elephant taxonomy:

  •  Kingdom: Animalia
  •  Phylum: Chordata
  •  Class: Mammalia
  •  Order: Proboscidea
  •  Family: Elephantidae
  •  Subtribe: Loxodontina (African elephants), Elephantina (Asian elephants)
  •  Genus: Loxodonta (African elephants), Elephas (Asian elephants)
  •  Species: Loxodonta Africana (African bush elephant), Loxodonta cyclotis (African forest elephant), and Elephas maximus (Asian elephant)
  •  Subspecies: Elephas maximus maximus (Sri Lankan Asian elephant), E. m. indicus (Mainland Asian elephant), E.m. sumatranus (Sumatran Asian elephant)

Elephant Facts – The Main Species of Elephants

There are three main species of elephants, the:

  • African bush elephant
  • African forest elephant
  • Asian elephant
elephant facts about African elephants
African elephants

The Asian elephant has three subspecies called:

  • the Sri Lankan Asian elephant
  • the mainland Asian elephant
  • the Sumatran Asian elephant
elephant facts about Borneo pygmy elephants
Borneo pygmy elephant

There are two pygmy variations of both African and Asian elephants, however these species are not considered separate or subspecies.

Elephant facts about Indian elephants
Indian elephant

Elephant Facts – Smallest, Largest, Lifespan

The smallest African elephant species is the African forest elephant. These tiny but mighty creatures are found in the forests of central and western African countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This species grows up to 6 tons (Which is about the weight of 5 horses!), and can live anywhere from 50-70 years.

Elephant Facts – The Largest Elephants

The largest of all the elephant species is the African bush elephant. These gentle giants are found in most sub-Saharan African countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Kenya. This species can grow up to 7 tons and also live up to 70 years.

The bush elephant is far larger than the forest elephant, and the bush have the infamous ears shaped like the African continent; while the forest elephant has smaller, oval shaped ears.

Both male and female African elephants grow tusks, which is linked directly to the endangered status of both species.

Elephant facts about African elephants
African bush elephant

The direst threat to African elephant populations is the illegal poaching and trade of their gorgeous ivory tusks; Other issues are the rise in environment fragmentation, deforestation, and conflicts which arise as the elephant’s habitat becomes heavily populated with humans.

Elephant Facts –  Asian Elephants

As compared to the  African elephant, the Asian elephant is partially smaller, only growing up to around 5.5 tons. These smaller giants have a shorter lifespan as well, the oldest recorded being only slightly above 60 years old.

Asian elephants are mostly found throughout India, with some populations occurring in China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Borneo, and a few other Southeast Asian countries. They typically prefer to stay within tropical to subtropical forested areas, occasionally venturing out into grasslands, and always preferring to keep company near rivers and other bodies of water.

For the most part, only male Asian elephants grow tusks. However, females and males both may have small protrusions called tushes. These are smaller and more brittle than true tusks, and it is believed that their popularity in Asian elephants is due to the intensity of ivory hunting in the past.

Elephant Facts – Their Social Hierarchy

The social hierarchy of elephants is a strictly matriarchal society in which one female has authority over a large group of females. They band together to travel and care for their young.

There is one head matriarch at the forefront, who is often the oldest female and mother to many within the herd. These matriarchs play a critical role. They:

  • dictate the behavior and future decisions of the herd
  • defends her tribe
  • imparts life skills to younger females

Male elephants often live on their own once they turn 12-15. Although some males may band together into a bachelor group in order to survive and court females.

These bachelor groupings have a similar hierarchy to the main herds, with the oldest at the front to determine paths and defend the rest.

Elephant Facts – Other Unique Behaviors

Elephants are highly intelligent creatures with complex social structures, problem solving, and tool use behaviors. They show emotion, such as having a strong attachment to their deceased herd mates. They have been found to return to the bodies of those that have passed and cover them in branches.

Elephant Facts – Body Features: Trunks, Teeth, Offspring

elephant facts - an elephant's trunk has 40,000 muscles

  • An elephant can lift 770 pounds with its trunk!
  • There are 40,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk.
  • The elephant’s trunk is used for smelling and breathing, communication through trumpeting, drinking, and grabbing a multitude of things such as food or a scampering calf.
  • Asian elephants have an elongated finger-like structure on their trunks which aids in further grabbing capabilities, while African elephants have two fingers on their trunks.
  • Unlike humans, elephants do not have a gallbladder, as such they must maintain low-fat, high-fiber diets.
  • Their teeth are molar-like and have sharp ridges that are best suited for grinding up tough plants, which is mostly what they feast on. These mighty animals can eat up to 300 pounds  of vegetation a day, and drink nearly 60 gallons of water in that same time.
  • Elephants are typically pregnant for 22 months and typically only give birth to one calf at a time, although twins do occasionally happen. In one average lifetime, a female elephant will have anywhere from 10-12 calves. When a pregnant female can tell she is about to give birth, the other females of her herd will surround her in a circle with their tusks and trunks facing outwards to protect her as the newborn calf enters the world. Newborn calves can weigh over 200 lbs and are able to walk less than 12 hours after being born.

Are Elephants Endangered?

Of both wild and housed populations, roughly half a million elephants remain, and as such they are all considered endangered. As previously stated, the biggest threats to elephants is the ivory trade and habitat destruction due to human activity.

Some of the best ways to help elephants are by:

  1. Buy Forest Stewardship Council approved coffee. Coffee crops are often grown in areas which endanger the habitat of elephants. FSC helps to grow coffee in a safe and sustainable way.
  2. Educate yourself on the history of elephants in non-AZA accredited zoos and circuses, in which the abuse of elephants has been rampant, and do your best to avoid current events and places which do not treat their elephants correctly.
  3. Educate others one what you have learned here and spread the love for elephants!
  4. Support conservation and research through:
    1. https://elephantconservation.org/
    2. https://www.wcs.org/our-work/wildlife/elephants
    3. https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
    4. https://www.natucate.com/en/trips/volunteer-abroad-zambia-kafue-national-park-elephant
    5. https://elephantswithoutborders.org/projects/elephant-research/

elephant facts printable lesson

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