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You probably knew that the African Elephant is the largest land animal on the planet, but did you know there are actually two species of African elephant? The Savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).

They are separated geographically; the Savanna elephant primarily inhabits grasslands of Eastern and Southern Africa while the Forest elephant lives in the jungles of Central and Western Africa.

1) Elephants on Heels

Internal view of an African elephant foot

Internal view of an African elephant foot

An elephant foot is unique; the largest mammal on earth walks on heels.

The phalanges (fingers and toes) are embedded in a cartilaginous fatty pad. This is the reason why elephants leave almost no tracks; the enormous weight of the animal is spread out evenly thanks to this pad.

 

2) The Extra Toe

It has recently been discovered that elephants actually have a sixth toe. This structure was noted 300 years ago but dismissed as cartilage.

This extra toe (between 5 and 10cm) lays hiding in the fat pad of the elephant’s foot, pointing backwards. On the hind feet it is larger and jointed. Researchers have found that the extra digit forms as cartilage, slowly transforming into bone as the elephant grows bigger. As the animal gets heavier, this toe provides extra support, like a strut, preventing the pad from collapsing.

3) Silent Talkers

Elephants have four different sounds that we humans can hear: rumble, trumpeting, squealing and screaming.

Baby elephants often communicate with squeals

Baby elephants often communicate with squeals

But an elephant’s repertoire is much more diverse. They make calls that we humans cannot hear, not even if we stand right next to them. These calls occur below the range of human hearing, in what is called ultrasound.

Humans can hear sound within the range of 20-20,000Hz. Forest elephants make calls as low as 5Hz and Savanna elephants’ frequencies  are found within 14-20Hz. These low frequency sounds travel great distances. Depending on the weather, the range over which elephant communications carry varies from 30 square kilometers to an enormous 300 sq km (11.5 to 115 sq mi). It is also believed they can use the fatty pads in their feet to pick up the sounds from other elephants as they pass through the ground.

4) A Trunk For All Occasions

Perhaps the most incredible feature of an elephant is its trunk. It is a nose that has turned into a fifth limb: the most important limb in the elephant’s life. It is used for an amazing array of tasks, ranging from feats of brute strength, to extremely delicate and accurate tasks. Most importantly, it is used for eating and drinking. An elephant can’t reach the ground with it’s mouth so all food is gathered with the trunk first. Water cannot be sipped from the ground. It must first be inhaled into the trunk and then blown into the mouth.

A trunk can be used to scratch an itchy eye, to gesture threateningly, to greet loved ones, to caress babies, to throw things, to reach leaves high in a tree, to smell danger, to wield tools such as a stick for a back-scratcher, to shower themselves and toss dirt onto their sensitive skin, and it can even be used as a snorkel when swimming.

Elephants use their trunks to take a dust bath

Elephants use their trunks to take a dust bath

On top of all that, the trunk is also used as a resonating chamber to amplify sounds. The end of the trunk has two finger-like lips covered with sensitive hairs which can be used to pick up tiny objects, yet it is so powerful it can be used to lift entire trees.

It is truly one of the most incredible inventions of evolution!

Watch the following video on how elephants use their trunk when eating. You can even see the two finger-like lips!

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