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Elephants are truly one of the worlds greatest animals. Majestic, incredibly powerful, and they already hold the title for the largest, living land animal.
However, you may be surprised to hear that there are more than just one species of elephant. In fact there are four! The African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, the Asian elephant - also known as the Indian elephant - and thanks to DNA testing, the Borneo pygmy elephant. All other species and genera of Elephantidae are now long extinct since the last ice age although some dwarf forms of mammoth are believed to have survived as late as 2,000 BC.
Be that is it may, the two most widely known species of elephant are the Asian and African elephants, but just what are the differences between them?
There are many differences between Asian and African elephants, some like the size of the ears are widely known. Both species of elephant are members of the same taxonomical family, elephantidae but are each from a different genus:
Elephas maximus - Asian elephants, and Loxadonta africana - African elephants. These two are further divided into different subspecies.
The African elephant is significantly larger with adult bulls growing up to 4m in height tall whereas the biggest Asian males reach no more than 3.5m.
Adult African elephants weigh between 4,000-7,500 kg. Asian elephants are less at 3000-6,000 kg.
African elephants have a fuller more rounded head. The top of the head is a single dome whereas Asian elephants have a twin domed head with an indent in the middle. The lower lips of the two species also differ being long and tapered in Asian elephants and short and round in African elephants.
Size of the Ears
It is said that you can tell where an elephant comes from by looking at the size of his ears. African ears are like a map of Africa and Asian ears smaller like a map of India. African ears are much bigger and reach up and over the neck. The ears of an Asian elephant are much smaller and do not reach up and over the neck..
The skin of an African elephant is much more wrinkled
In general African elephants have more ribs than the Asian though the number of ribs can varys in individual animals. African elephants have up to 21 pairs while Asian elephants can have up to 20.
All African elephants, male and female have tusks, whereas only some male Asian elephants have tusks. Africans generally have the bigger tusks. About 50% of female Asian elephants and a small percentage of males have small tusk like teeth known as tushes.
The lamella profile along the top of the molar teeth of the two species is different with the ridges on Asian’s teeth being more tightly compressed.
The African elephant’s trunk is visibly more heavily ringed and is not as hard as the Asian trunk.
The trunk tip is a major difference between the species. The African trunk has two distinct fingers which it uses to pick up and manipulate objects. The Asian elephant has only one ‘finger’. The Asian compensates for this by holding objects against the underside of the trunk and appears not to suffer from any lack of maneuverability.
Toenails in the two different species of African elephants vary. As they do between the African and Asian elephants.
The African forest elephant has 5 nails on front feet and 4 on the back while the African bush elephant has 4 nails on front feet and 3 on the back. The Asian elephant has 5 nails on front feet, 4 on the back and on the very rare occation 5!
Although both species of elephant eat a wide variety of plant matter, in general term the Asian elephant’s diet is made up of a greater proportion of grass while the African elephants diet is made up of a greater proportion of leaves.