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10 Elephant Adaptations (Evolutionary Secrets!)

Elephant Adaptations

Examples of elephant adaptations include long tusks, a long nose, and the ability to migrate and eat low-quality vegetation.

Elephants live in some of the harshest environment on earth. As such, they evolved to be massive and strong—they can fight predators and lions do not even stand a chance. They also posses several skills that allow them to live in the savannah—they can survive under extreme heat and keep themselves cool.

Elephant Adaptations

1. Huge Ears

Elephants have huge ears, so they can flap them and keep themselves cool. Yes, these ears are fans that help dissipate heat.

Particularly, African elephants are the species that have the biggest ears because they live in hotter climates than Asian elephants. Elephants have few sweat glands, so they must do something to balance the temperature in their bodies.

The process by which elephants use their ears to regulate their temperature is called thermoregulation. All elephants have big ears, but African elephants have the largest.

2. A Long Nose

The long nose of an elephant is crucial for its survival. They use it to gather food, and water, breathe, and also move objects.

One thing that most people do not know is that an elephant’s nose has “fingers.” These are not exactly fingers but rather protrusions. African elephants have two on their trunk, but the Asian elephant only has one.

These fingers are strong, and elephants use these fingers to grasp objects with precision. These fingers are so strong and sensitive that they enable an elephant to pick up a small peanut.

3. Tusks and Teeth

An elephant’s tusk is an elongated incisor that the elephant uses to gather food and strip barks from trees. They also use it to defend themselves.

Unlike humans, the tooth of an elephant is made of ivory—they are deeply rooted, and they are also covered with enamel like the teeth of human beings. The tusk also functions as a protector of the trunk.

One cool thing about elephants is that, like humans being left or right-handed, elephants can be left or right-tusked. It means that one tusk is more dominant over the other, and theelephant uses that dominant side more often.

4. Wrinkly Skin

Elephants have wrinkly skin because it traps moisture. It takes moisture to evaporate longer, and this process helps elephants keep cool.

Elephants in the savanna have to live through agonizingly hot climates. Their skins are much more wrinkled than their Asian counterparts.

Elephant skin, under a microscope, looks like micro-valleys. As the elephant gets older, the skin tends to get thick and dry, causing the skin to crack. As the skin cracks, it eventually develops to be able to retain five to ten times water.

5. Non-Ruminant Diet

One adaptation that elephants have is a non-ruminant diet. What it means is that they are not choosy as to what type of vegetation to eat. They can eat low-quality vegetation and survive on it.

Unlike other herbivores, elephants do not chew the cud. They also do not belch. What they do is produce a lot of methane gas—so much so that a car can travel 20 miles with the amount of methane that an elephant excretes in a day.

As a non-ruminant, elephants must eat a lot, like 16 hours a day. They do not digest all the pants they eat. They excrete more than 50%, and it is why they are keystone species. The undigested plants eventually grow in the soil where the elephant defecates. 

6. Hearing with the Feet

Elephants can sense vibration with their feet, and this is how they “hear.” They also have the capability to make a lot of sounds, and they feel these sound vibrations from low-frequency rumbles on the ground.

Elephants stomp on the ground, and when they do, others can hear it, too. They have sensitive nerve endings on their feet, which allow them to “hear” the signal from others that there is danger.

When elephants stomp their feet, they send a warning signal to others who are miles away—yes, other elephants miles away can detect these seismic vibrations and react. 

7. Massive Size

Elephants evolved to massive size as a protection against predators. Today, elephants are the biggest land animals alive.

As a huge animal, the elephant can deter predators like lions. They can also store more energy, and this helps survive the dry landscape of deserts. They can survive even if there is food scarcity because their large bodies can store huge amounts of water and energy reserves. 

8. Communication Skills

Elephants can make many types of sounds. From a rumble to a full-on trumpet, they can communicate their feelings in many ways.

In addition to sound and vibratory communication skills, elephants use chemical communication, too. They can smell secretions from other elephants. On top of this, the elephant also has the ability to see and interpret body language from other elephants.

9. Immediate Walking

Elephants are nomadic animals. They must constantly move to feed. As such, they evolved in sucha way that a newborn elephant can walk ina matter of 20 minutes.

This adaptation is necessary because elephants cannot wait a year before they can move out. They must consistently move, or they will go hungry. This amazing strength and ability to walk allows the entire herd to survive.

10. Intense Memory

Elephants do not forget. This saying is correct, as elephants have a huge frontal lobe. They have poor eyesight, but they never forget a face.

The memory of an elephant is key to its survival. In a matriarchal society, the elephant must pass on knowledge to others who will eventually take over. The lead elephant must know the right places to gather food and where the waterholes are. If she has poor memory, the herd will die.


Elephants are some of the most powerful and widely adapted species of animals alive. It is no wonder they have survived for many years. Elephant ancestors have been around for 200 million years, and they vied with dinosaurs. Sadly, elephants are also the most hunted down animal because of their tusks. People use the tusks to make expensive ivory-based products. The good news is that the world is reacting, and many countries now ban the sale of any product that uses ivory.

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