Asian elephants weigh 200–265 lb (90–120 kg) at birth. Unlike other mammals, they continue to grow well into adult life. Females cease growth at 25–30 years, males at 35–45. Fully-grown Asian elephants animals typically weigh 2-3 tonnes in females and 4-5 tonnes in males, and are 2–3 m high at the shoulder.
- In contrast to African elephants (Loxodonta africana) they have
- a convex, ‘arch-shaped’ back
- the head is higher and double-domed
- ears are smaller and fold forward at the top, there is
- more body hair
- one ‘finger’ at the end of the trunk
- The elephant’s head is proportionately very large, weighing up to half a tonne; the neck is short. The body is supported on four extremely strong pillar-like legs.
- The elephant has five splayed toes buried within its foot, and stands on tip-toe; the first visible joint, some distance above the ground, is not the elbow or the knee, but the wrist or ankle.
- The foot contains a pad of springy tissue that causes the elephant’s foot to swell sideways when it bears the animal’s weight.
- The tail is long, extending to below the knee, and ends in a tuft of very coarse hairs. Otherwise, the body is sparsely covered by short hair, more pronounced in very young animals. As far as is known, there are no sweat glands.
- The ears are very large and thin, except for a thicker supporting ridge along the top. They are richly supplied with blood vessels for heat loss, and are flapped mainly for this purpose.
- The skin is a uniform gray. Elephants may take on brown or other hues after wallowing in mud.
The elephant’s trunk is, anatomically, a fusion between its nose and upper lip. The trunk is remarkably sensitive, flexible and manoeuvrable, as well as being immensely strong. It contains no bone or cartilage, but is principally composed of muscle, in eight main sets (four on each side) comprising a total of about 150,000 separately moveable muscle units. Two nostrils run the entire length of the trunk for breathing.
Only males possess tusks, although females frequently possess tiny tusks called ‘tushes’, which can just be seen protruding from the lip, especially when the trunk is raised. A percentage (currently increasing) of males congenitally lack tusks: known as ‘mukhnas’, these animals are thought to compensate by being especially strongly-built, particularly in the upper trunk region.The tusks are, anatomically, greatly expanded lateral incisor teeth. They are comprised almost entirely of dentine. About a third of their length is buried within a socket in the animal’s skull. The tusks are solid, except the upper part within the socket, where there is a pulp cavity. The tusks grow by addition of dentine there, pushing them out by up to 6 in (15 cm) a year. The tusks of a large bull can extend 79 in (200 cm) in total length and weigh 110 lb (50 kg) each, although such figures are rare nowadays.
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