Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ashlene from , . Ashlene Wonders, “How can you tell the difference of a African elephant to a Asian elephant.” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ashlene !
OK, so that joke wasn't the best, but it does underscore the common misperception that all elephants are the same. Although all elephants may share some striking similarities, there are actually two distinct types of elephants: African elephants and Asian elephants. Asian elephants, known by their scientific name Elephas maximus, belong to a different genus than African elephants, which belong to the genus Loxodonta.
Given their names, you've probably already figured out one of the primary differences between these two types of elephants: their habitats. Since African elephants can be found in Africa and Asian elephants stick to Asia, these elephants don't run across each other in the wild.
If you see these two types of elephants, it's usually in pictures and they can look very similar. If you saw them in the flesh next to each other, though, you'd be able to spot a few key differences between them.
For example, African elephants tend to be much larger than Asian elephants. On average, African elephants outweigh their Asian counterparts by a ton or more! Weight can be hard to guess, though, so one feature experts look at first is the size of an elephant's ears.
African elephants have proportionally larger ears than Asian elephants. Some people think the ears of African elephants are shaped a bit like the continent of Africa. These larger ears help keep African elephants cooler in the African heat. Asian elephants, on the other hand, tend to spend more time in cooler jungles. As a result, their ears tend to be smaller.
You can also see a difference between the two types of elephants when they move. African elephants appear to have their heads down when they walk. This is because they have a sloped back that makes their shoulders their highest part. Asian elephants have a flatter back, and they carry their heads higher than their backs and shoulders.
There are a few other smaller differences that can also help tell African and Asian elephants apart. In Asian elephants, only the males grow tusks (but not all of them do). In African elephants, both males and females will usually (but not always) grow tusks.
African elephants also have a full, rounded head that consists of a single dome. Asian elephants, in contrast, have heads that consist of two domes with an indentation in the middle.
Although both types of elephants have skin color ranging from dark gray to brown, as Asian elephants get older, they develop patches of pinkish-peach skin on their trunks, ears, and faces.
For years, scientists thought that African elephants were a single species. Thanks to advanced DNA testing capabilities, scientists have now learned that African elephants can actually be divided into two species: African forest elephants and African bush elephants. As their names indicate, they live in different environments and have started to develop unique characteristics that help each thrive in its particular environment.