The Skeleton
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Asina Elephant Skeleton

Did you know?

  • The Asian and African elephants show a great variation between their skull structures.
  • There is a great difference in the shape of the skull between sexes in the African elephant.
  • Being the largest land animal, the elephants skeleton must support a tremendous amount of weight.
  • The neck of the African elephant is almost horizontal whereas in the Asian elephant, it is held at approximately 45o.
  • Elephants normally have 20 ribs forming an enormous barrel-shaped cage.


Yield To Elephants

The skeleton of the elephant has been greatly influenced by the tremendous mass it must support. Incredibly, it weighs about 16.5 percent of an elephant´s total weight. As a comparison, cattle have a skeletal structure that only weights about 10 percent of the total weight. The backbone is the mechanism by which soft tissues are 'hung', consisting of sturdy vertebrae with high, strong neural spines in the chest (thoracic) area. Similar to Man, the elephant has an almost vertical pelvis that is greatly expanded. This influenced the prime reasons why it is difficult for an untrained eye in the past to know the sex of a particular elephant; the genital organs in the male are inside the body, and the female´s genitals are outside the body but are difficult to spot from the rear.

The ribs extend along most of the backbone and form an enormous barrel-shaped cage. The limbs are composed of segments in direct line with one another resulting in a rigid pillar of support for the huge mass of the elephant: it is as though an elephant is walking on four thick and upright pillars, which are long in the upper segment and short in the lower. Also, the majority of the marrow cavities in the leg bones have been replaced with a spongy bone aiding in the legs great strength and relatively light weight.

As in all mammals, elephants have seven neck vertebrae. Unlike other herbivores, the elephants vertebrae evolved to have fused and relatively flat discs, which are able to handle the weight of the elephant´s tusks and head.

The Comaprison of Skeletons

The neck is relatively brief and has a huge double spine originating from the second vertebra. The head of the Asian elephant is the highest part of the animal due to the fact that it is held at a 45 degree angle to the neck. Also, elephants do not possess a collar bone. The massive shoulder blades provide support for muscles from the forelimbs.


As one might think, the brain is not located in the front of the skull, but is in the cranial cavity behind the eyes in line with the auditory canal. The huge forehead holds a intricate inflated sponge-like bone, which are formed from a large number of cavities between the two surfaces of the bone. This actually is quite advantageous because it provides the size, and at the same time is extremely light.

There are similarities and differences in the skull structure between African and Asian elephants. In both species, the skull is actually much lighter than its size suggests as a significant volume contains no brain mass at all. The Asian elephant has a bulbous forehead which contain sinuses, not extra thinking power! The skull proportions between species is markedly different. In the anterior view, the Asian elephant has a much longer and narrower face than the African counterpart. The jaw (particularly the upper jaw) in the African elephant is larger and more pronounced, especially in males, to accommodate the development of its immense tusks.

The shape of the skull is distinctly different between the male and female African elephant. In both, the neck muscles attach to a flattened skull in the rear of the head. However, the female skull forms a ridge extending over the top of the forehead resulting in a square-like appearance. Meanwhile, the male has a rounded forehead. This distinction between sexes can make field identification much easier.

Baby Elephant


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