Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

12 Characteristics of Elephants

Elephants are the largest land animals that still exist on Earth today. These animals are distinguished by their long trunk, which they use to obtain food, drink, and even breathe! Most researchers are interested in the characteristics of elephants due to their unique physical traits and emotional intelligence.

Let’s look at some of these animals’ characteristics in this article and how important they’re to their survival.

12 Characteristics of elephants

What is a characteristic?

Characteristics, either behavioral or physical, are two ways of describing an individual. Physical characteristics include eye color, height, weight, and so on, whereas behavioral characteristics focus on how an individual behaves or behaves.

1. Large size

Asian Elephant
Asian Elephant | image by Bikash Das via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Elephants are among the largest land animals on the planet. Their enormous size is one of their physical characteristics that helps them survive in the wild. They can use their size to defend themselves against predators and even other elephants who may be attempting to harm them or take over their territory.

Female elephants are typically smaller than male elephants. Adult males can weigh up to 7.5 tons, while females can weigh up to 7 tons. These animals can grow to be 8 to 11 feet tall, depending on the species and whether they live in a healthy habitat.

2. Big molars

As large animals, elephants also need large teeth to support their food intake. Since elephants spend the majority of their time eating and chewing barks and woody branches, they require large and strong molars. These animals have large molars that protrude from their jaws.

These molars are typically 20cm long and 4kg in weight. Their molars also grow and replace differently than other animals’ teeth. Instead of being replaced vertically, their molars are replaced horizontally.

This is because they develop their teeth from the back of their jaws and push forward when another molar develops from their jaw. Throughout their lives, they’ll have six sets of four molars that’ll be replaced as they wear out. Once they’ve worn out all of their molars, elephants may pass away from malnutrition.

3. Thick skin

Elephant roaming around the grass field
Elephant roaming around the grass field

The thick skin of an elephant is a very important physical feature for its survival. There’s a reason why the elephant’s skin is thick and wrinkled. Their skin is approximately one inch thick, but the skin around their mouth, anus, and inside their ears is much thinner.

Although they have no visible sweat glands, their wrinkly skin acts as a cooling mechanism by trapping moisture. This type of skin allows elephants to stay cool for extended periods of time, which is highly helpful in hot climates. Mud is also used as a sunscreen to protect the skin from UV rays, moisture loss, and insect bites.

4. Strong trunk

An elephant’s trunk is a unique appendage used for various functions, including breathing, smelling, drinking, and eating. It also has up to 150,000 muscles and can help with lifting and even gripping an object. The trunk of an elephant is incredibly strong.

You may also like:  12 Unique Characteristics of Spiders

It can carry up to 300 kg and is useful for reaching food from high branches or digging up roots. Elephants use their trunks to communicate and express their interests in various objects. They also have an incredible ability to smell particles in the air and locate water and food sources, thanks to their trunks.

5. Long tusks

Elephant with large tusks
Elephant with large tusks

The elephant’s tusks are two protruding, lengthened teeth that are typically present in the upper jaw of both sexes. These tusks are modified incisor teeth that can grow up to 7 inches a year and continue to grow throughout life. They can grow up to 6 ft long and weigh up to 50 lbs.

Tusks are used for root digging, brush clearing, fighting over females, and self-defense. It also protects their trunks, which are an important part of an elephant’s body.

6. Big Ears

The elephant’s large ears are one of its most distinguishing characteristics. Elephants have large ears not only for hearing but also for keeping cool. Contrary to popular belief, elephants don’t flap their ears to communicate with other species.

The large surface area allows heat to be released, allowing them to maintain a low body temperature. Their ears can also flap, which helps them stay cool when it’s hot.

African bush elephants, for example, have the largest ear flaps because they live in the hottest climate. Their ears are also capable of hearing low frequencies.

7. Small eyes

Indian Elephant
Indian Elephant | image by Yathin S Krishnappa via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Elephant vision is at best poor, and they can’t distinguish all colors or discern fine details as we do. Despite their large head and neck, they can only see up to 20 meters due to their small eyes.

However, they have excellent night vision and can see well in low-light conditions due to a reflective membrane known as a tapetum lucidum. This aids them in detecting predators at night.

8. Long gestation period

In comparison to other animals, these animals have a long gestation period. Elephants have a gestation period of 21 to 22 months, which usually occurs during the wet season.

These creatures are pregnant for such a long time because they give birth to such large babies. Elephant calves weigh around 260 pounds at birth and are 3 inches in size, making them much larger than other animal babies.

9. Very strong social bonds

Elephant family
Elephant family

Elephant social bonds are some of the strongest in the animal kingdom. They form strong family units and stay together for the rest of their lives. These magnificent animals have been observed mourning their dead, demonstrating a strong emotional bond between them.

This behavioral characteristic allows them to guide and protect one another, as well as their young. These elephants are usually relatives who grew up together, and they form lifelong friendships within those groups. The use of trunks to greet each other has also been observed in these groups.

10. Can identify human languages

Elephants are extremely intelligent animals. They can’t only communicate with other members of their species, but they can also understand human languages.

You may also like:  How Strong Are Rhinos? (Estimates & Examples)

These large animals can even tell whether a voice is male or female. These animals can also sense whether a person is going to be dangerous or hurtful to them.

11. Uses tools

One of the behaviors observed in elephants is their ability to make simple tools out of natural objects such as sticks or branches. They use these to scratch themselves or swat flies from their skin.

These animals have also been seen breaking branches off trees so they can use them to reach foods high in the canopy. Some of them will also drop these branches into water holes they have dug to plug it up and prevent other animals in the same habitat from drinking from it.

12. Shows empathy

Family of elephants
Family of elephants

Elephants are highly intelligent animals with complex social structures similar to humans. Their intelligence allows them to feel empathy and compassion for other beings.

In fact, elephants frequently keep an eye out for other elephants who may be injured or weak. These amazing creatures have strong family bonds and can recognize individuals in their herd and determine whether they’re friends or enemies.