Huh? What now? I should start doing these again, you say? Well...if you insist.
Hey folks, welcome back to my little series. I've been gone awhile, but hopefully I'm not too rusty at this. Today's topic was suggested by our good friend, Maso(a few months ago). I present to you the.....
Asian Elephant (AKA Indian Elephant) Elephas maximus
They are part of the family, Elephantidae which only contains 3 species of elephants still living today. (The other two are the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant.)
Gaze upon his magnificent elephant-ness.
Average shoulder height ranges from 8.2-9.8 ft (2.5-2.9m). Males, called bulls, normally weigh up to 11,000lbs (4,990kg). Females, called cows, are smaller reaching on average weighing up to 6,000lbs (2,720kg)
Aside from being large, they have wrinkly grayish-black skin which usually changes to the color of the dirt they continually apply to themselves. It's a lot more sensitive than it looks. It can be easily irritated by insect bites and harsh sunlight just like any human's. With age the skin loses it's pigmentation usually on the face and head(see below picture). There's also sparsely patched hair over an elephant's body. It seems to serve little purpose and technically elephants are considered hairless. The spine of Asian elephants is convex resulting a sort of ridge along the back ending in a tail. The skull sports two large domes on the top of the head. By the way, the cow's mammary glands are on her chest close the to forelegs. The male's bits and pieces are housed internally until needed.
"I have a bumpy head."
Elephant feet are primarily made up of spongy connective tissue. There are 5 toes concealed within that tissue. The apparent "toenails" are more like shields and are not actually attached to any toes. There are 5 of these "toenails" on the front feet and 4 on the back in Asian elephants. Also, the spongy feet make them quieter because it muffles sounds if they step on anything and they make it easier to walk through mud.
"This little piggy went to market..."
You'll also notice the trademark large, flapping ears which are handy for cooling down on a hot day and is unique for each elephant- like a fingerprint. It's basically a sheet of cartilage with thinner skin attached and blood vessels running through it.
Now for the strong and dexterous trunk. Nearly 150,000 fascicles (muscle bundles) allow for movement and flexibility. It's a modified nose and upper lip that's quite versatile and is used for smelling, eating, drinking, breathing underwater a la snorkel and manipulating whatever the elephant wants to manipulate in the environment. It's the elephant's main feature in interacting with the world around it. The trunk can pluck a leaf from a tree or toss around heavy logs, it's pretty awesome is what I'm getting at here.
Please, please, please don't sneeze.
Hanging out below the trunk, you'll notice tusks...although only in bull Asian elephants(like the one in the first picture). Cows don't have visible tusks, just small nubs that are called "tushes." Occasionally males don't develop tusks and in that case are referred to as "makhnas."
"Zoo," you might say to yourself, "what's the difference between African and Asian elephants?" Well, I'm glad I pretended you asked that. Here's a bit of a list:
-African elephants have much larger ears than the Asian elephant.
-Both sexes possess tusks in African elephants.
-African elephants are larger.
-Asian elephants have the two domes on their head, African elephants do not.
-Asian elephant's trunks only have one finger like projection, whereas African elephants have two.
-The African elephant's skin is more wrinkled.
-And obviously, there are genetic differences.
That should help you to figure out who's who. Although the ears are the easiest way to tell, so just focus on that and you'll ace your next elephant identification exam.
Asian elephants are primarily found in Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia (Sumatra), Laos, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Range represented by the dark spots on the map.
Their habitat consists of wet evergreen forest, mountainous evergreen forest and grassland, deciduous forest, savanna woodland, bamboo forest, dry scrub, and swampy grassland. Asian elephants can also inhabit urban areas as native people often make use of them for work- carrying tourists, logging, and other things.
Strictly herbivorous. If it's a plant, they'll eat it: grasses, vines, bamboo, fruits, roots, bark, leaves, and shrubs. As you would guess a big animal has a big appetite, they consume about 220-440lbs (100-200 kg) each day and wash it down with 113L (30 gal) of water.
They may spend 18-20 hours a day feeding utilizing that fantastic trunk of theirs.
Mmm, that's good eatin'.
Diurnal, spending the hottest part of the day in the shade and only sleeping about 4 hours a night while standing. If laying down for more than a few hours, the weight will crush the internal organs.
They are extremely social, well the cows are anyway. They follow a matriarchal herd organization meaning the ladies are in charge of the family group consisting of females and their offspring(calves). the herd can have between 15 and 30 individuals. The leader of a herd, the matriarch, makes all the decisions for the herd and leads it on its annual migrations during the monsoons.
Bulls are solitary for the most part(they may form small groups) after they reach their teenage years only visiting herds during the breeding season and leaving shortly after. As males reach sexual maturity, they will start entering an annual period of something called "musth." (also spelled 'must', which is how it's pronounced) During musth a bull's testosterone levels will increase up to 60 times the normal level and he gets really, really horny. This results in them becoming extremely aggressive and unpredictable. Secretions can be seen dribbling down from the temporal glands on the side of the head.
Bull in musth= dangerous
Elephants can make a variety of different sounds: trumpeting, squealing, crying, screaming, roaring, snorting, rumbling, and groaning. Trumpeting is used primarily if excited or agitated. Most of the sounds used to communicate with each other are infrasounds, sounds below the range of human hearing that can be broadcast for miles without being interrupted. Touch and smell are also very important for elephant communication. Caressing and smelling each other helps to establish social bonds in a herd.
If threatened elephants will move quickly with their tails up, which signals the danger to the other members of the herd. An elephant in a full charge can reach up to 30 mph (48kph). If a calf is threatened, a protective circle will be formed around it. Trunks are used as swinging weapons and elephants will throw their weight around to crush an enemy.
Asian elephants reach sexual maturity between 9 and 15 years. Breeding starts when a cow goes into estrus and a bull who has fought away all competition joins a herd for awhile hanging out with the cow for about 3 weeks. Courtship behavior includes the female standing face to face and intertwining trunks with the male. After hot elephant love has taken place, it's a long 18-22 month gestation period for the cow. After the nearly two year pregnancy a usually single(sometimes twins) 220lb(100kg) calf is born that's about 3ft(1m) at the shoulder. (See ladies, you get off easy. ) The calf will suckle from its mother and other lactating females in the herd for the next 1.5-2 years although after the first 3 months it starts supplementing its diet with vegetation. Females may stay with the herd for life, but as males become teenagers they leave.
Aww. Who's a cute, fuzzy elephant calf? Yes, you are.
-Elephants are either right or left tusked, just like left and right handed people.
-The Asian elephant has been domesticated for centuries; it is intelligent and docile when well treated.
-People who "drive" elephants are called "mahouts."
-The elephant plays a major role in Hinduism. The god Ganesha's head is that of an elephant, and the "blessings" of a temple elephant are highly valued.
-In the past, elephants were used as tools of war primarily as a siege engine and one hell of an intimidating enemy.
-An elephant’s skin is so sensitive that it can feel a fly landing on it.
-The low, resounding calls elephants make can be heard by another elephant up to 5mi (8 km) away.
-As you probably know, elephants have been relentlessly hunted for the ivory in their tusks thus leading to their endangered status along with habitat loss.
-There are four subspecies of the Asian elephant: Indian Elephant, Sri Lankan Elephant, Sumatran Elephant and Borneo Elephant.
-Elephants grieve at a loss of a stillborn baby, a family member, and in many cases other elephants.
-The Asian elephant is more closely related to the extinct mammoth than to the African elephant.
And that's the Asian elephant for you. Hope you learned something and had fun reading. See ya next time!