Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Elephant (Part 1)

This week’s creature is the largest living land animal on the planet and that description should be enough for most people to know what it is. They have one of the strongest olfactory senses in the wild and are one of the smartest animals. They are self-aware, can figure out puzzles and challenges more quickly than some people can and when they want to can be the friendliest creature or incredibly dangerous. They are feared, loved, respected, hated, considered sacred to some people and they like to get drunk sometimes. The elephant is an epicly wonderful creature and I will tell you why.
Being as well known as they are, there is not much need for description so I will just give you the basics. There are two main types of elephant, African and Asian. They are the largest land animal and can be up to 4 meters (13ft) tall, weighing up to 12000Kg (26000lb). They have very tough and wrinkly brown, grey or black skin, large thin fan-like ears, tusks, a small tail and the most famous feature of course is a long dexterous trunk (proboscis) which is also a nose, straw, snorkel and weapon. Elephants are herbivores; they eat leaves, grass, fruit, tree bark, and even sometimes tree branches. They have been known to knock over trees and let the tree sap or fruit ferment and then come back and eat/drink the booze created.

The trunk of an elephant is an amazing thing of nature (something that people try to recreate in the robot industry); it is the most important appendage for an elephant. The African elephant has two finger-like projections at the end of the trunk and the Asian elephant only has one. The trunk is delicate enough to pick up a single blade of grass and strong enough to push down a tree. They use their trunks to rip up their food and place it in their mouths, they will use their trunks to reach up high for food, shake and even knock the tree down to get at the food they want.

Elephants will suck up water (up to 14 litres (15 quarts)) and then blow it into their mouths to drink; they will also use their trunks to blow water, dirt and/or mud on them as a protective screen from the sun. Elephants even use their trunks as snorkels when swimming... yes, they can swim. Elephants have a highly developed sense of smell, they can stick their trunks in the air and swivel the tip from the side to side to locate friends, enemies and food sources. This is helpful if you’re trying to keep elephants out of the household because all you need to do is have fresh hot peppers about because the smell of them hurts the elephant’s nose.

The trunk is also used in social interactions; an elephant will entwine trunks as a handshake, will play wrestle with them, and caress other elephants in courtship or parent/child relationships. They will raise their trunks as a warning or threat, lower them to show submission, they can use them to fling off or grab enemies.

Elephants have two extruding upper incisors called tusks that continually grow; they can reach up to 3 meters (10ft) long and weigh up to 90kg (200lb). Both bull (or male) and cow (or female) African elephants grow large tusks but only the bull Asian elephant grows large tusks, while the cow grows very small ones or none at all. Much like how humans have a dominant hand, elephants have a dominant tusk that they use more which tends to be more rounded and worn down from use. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water and salt, to debark trees, to dig into trees for the pulp inside, move branches and trees to clear a path; they also use them as weapons and to mark territory. The tusks are mostly made of calcium phosphate (they are basically teeth), which we also call ivory, which is favored by sculptors for its softness when carving. That is why the elephant population is significantly smaller than it used to be. I think ivory is beautiful but I think keeping these epic creatures around is more beautiful!

One of the more unique parts of an elephant is the ear, they have huge fan like ears and African elephants have larger ones than the Asian elephants. They use these ears more for cooling themselves off than hearing. The elephant’s ears are filled with a rich network of blood vessels. When the elephants flap their ears it creates a cool breeze, this breeze cools off the blood and is then transferred throughout the body thus keeping the elephants cooled. Asian elephants live farther north in cooler climates so their ears are smaller as they need them less. Their ears are also used to show aggression - an elephant (most likely a bull during mating season) it will spread out its ears to intimidate the foe. If an elephant were to do this at you, get the heck out of dodge because the next thing that will happen is it will charge at you. One other thing male elephants use their ears for is during mating season the bull will produce a scent behind its ear, a musky smell and it will fan it around using its ears, this is used to attract a mate and can be smelled for miles around.

Elephants are very delicate with their feet when they want to be, there is an elephant that can pet a dog with it’s foot without crushing it; they are also very powerful tools when they want them to be as well. While an elephant walks their feet swell when they are on the ground, when they lift them up they shrink, this is helpful when more weight is applied to their backs and when walking through mud. Elephants cannot run because they have straight legs, they can walk fast which looks like a run but that is it. They can walk fast - up to 40km/h (25m/h). They have been known to charge and stampede when in herds, when they start doing that almost nothing can stop them, much like the juggernaut.

There was so much info on the elephant from my research that it was too large to do in one post so this one is a two parter, that is why it is so late as well. 

The following video is about two best friends, a dog and a elephant.

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