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11.4: Loxodonta africana: African Elephant

Created by: CK-12

Common Name

  • African Elephant
  • African Bush Elephant
  • African Savanna Elephant

Description

The African Bush Elephant, scientifically classified as Loxodonta africana, is an organism under the Eukarya domain and present in the animal kingdom. Its full biological classification is

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Proboscidea
  • Family: Elephantidae
  • Genus: Loxodonta
  • Species: L. africana

Physically, the African Bush Elephant is the largest land living animal alive today, with the male weighing around 15,000 pounds and reaching a length of about 6 to 7.5 meters (about 20-25 feet), and a shoulder height of 3.3m (over 10.5 ft). Females are much smaller, reaching 5.4 to 6.9m (about 17.5 to over 22 ft) in length, and 2.7m (almost 9 ft) in height at the shoulder, and weighing around 6,600 pounds.

Regarding its diet, the African Bush Elephant is a herbivore, consuming various types of plants. The average elephant from this species consumes about 225 kilograms of food daily, and it actively washes down its food with nearly 200 liters of water.

Socially, the African Bush Elephant interacts immensely with other elephants of its kind, associating in groups to protect each other from predators. Among these groups, the elephants mate with each other. The female emits mating calls from her trunk when she is receptive and ready to mate. The female is pregnant for roughly twenty two months.

Habitat

L. africana are present the continent of Africa, which is susceptible to climates of high temperature and sunlight. Specifically, the African Bush Elephant is commonly found in the central and the southern regions of the African continent, where they inhabit the plains and the multiple grasslands/savannahs present in this region. Both of these habitats express an abidance of grass but relatively few trees, and are sometimes surrounded by water springs. The climate of the savannah is hot during the summer, with occasional rainfall in either the summer or the winter seasons. With the rainfall, water holes and small ponds accumulate in the habitat, yet there is not enough rainfall to completely promote the growth of many trees in the habitat. Other animals that live in the savannah and grassland habitats alongside the elephants include the black mamba, the lion, the zebra, the Nile crocodile, and many other animals.

Biology

Cell Biology

L. africana is capable of producing both haploid and diploid cells. Haploid cells are produced by cells in the organism's reproductive system, where these cells divide by the process of meiosis, forming four gamete cells for each starting cell that undergoes this process. Male gametes (sperm), and female gametes (eggs), come together during fertilization to form a diploid zygote, with double the genetic material of haploid cells. Diploid, or somatic cells, which consist of the elephant cells excluding gametes, replicate by mitosis in order to promote the growth and envelopment of the elephant and its internal organs and organ systems.

L. africana is a heterotrophic organism, consuming autotrophs, including many different types of vegetation. Like other animals, L. africana abtains energy by breaking down organic molecules via cellular and aerobic respiration.

In addition, L. africana has the unique facet of large red blood cells present in its circulatory system. These large cells naturally have a higher affinity for oxygen due to an increased amount of hemoglobin, the protein in the red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the elephant’s body. This high affinity for oxygen greatly increases the efficiency of cellular respiration in the organism.

Genetics

The genome of the L. africana is very important, as its unique composure is able to distinguish it from the very similar genome of the African Forest Elephant, L. cyclotis. Through consecutive analysis of both of the genomes, together with a comparison of the genomes of the Wooly Mammoth and Mastodon, numerous species differences can be observed. Differences in the base sequences of the two elephant’s genomes proved that both of these elephants were in fact, distinct species. In 2010, sequencing efforts proved the two elephant species to be distinct. The DNA sequencing of 375 genes, demonstrated that the two species diverged around the same time as the Asian elephant and the woolly mammoth around 2.6 to 5.6 million years ago.

Evolution

L. africana is part of the Mammalian class, where its ancestors where the largest land dwellers, having originated about 60 million years ago. One of the first ancestors that the L. africana originated from was the Moeritherium, which lived about 37 million years ago and is considered one of the first ancestors of the African Bush Elephant. The Moeritherium was the ancestor that created the transition between aquatic and terrestrial inhabitation, living the lifestyle similar to a hippo, yet slowly inclining towards inhabiting land itself.

One of the next ancestors of L. africana after the Moeritherium was the Gomphotherium, which inhabited terrestrial land about 10 million years ago. This ancestor of the L. africana had now evolved from the Moeritherium by means of adapting to a much more fully terrestrial lifestyle. Acquired characteristics in exposure to land habitats included tusks to defend itself from terrestrial predators on both its upper and lower jaws. Its jaws also evolved to a much more durable shape in order to help digest vegetation that this organism consumed on land.

Finally, the Gomphoterium evolved into two separate species, the Mastodon and the Wooly Mammoth. Both of these species of animals specialized in the development of strong tusks fashioned out of ivory in their upper jaw. Both of these species became extinct during the Ice Age about 12,000 years ago, with more modern elephants now arising from these ancestors to form the three current species of elephants present today in our world; the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant, and the Asian Elephant.

Ecology

L. africana species interacts with its woodland and savannah environments in many different ways that make up its overall ecological background. We see that the African Savannah Elephant, in order to obtain food and resources, such as vegetation to consume or water to drink, must interact with their environment in many ways to do so. For instance, the African Bush Elephant is active either day or night, looking for food and resources at both of these time periods. The African Bush Elephant sleeps and uses periods of rest to restore its energy needed to scavenge the environment for resources. L. africana may also embark frequently on long migrations of up to several miles to find water to drink in order to survive.

In order to receive protection from predators of the habitat, the African Bush Elephant actually congregates in matriarchal, or female led packs of about ten or more elephants. Between the ages of 8 and 20 years, the male elephants in a pack are abandoned. Once puberty begins in the male, the males can live alone without the aid of the pack. While this occurs, the male African Bush Elephant enters a state of mating classified as musth, a complex state of arousal that is triggered by an increased amount of the hormone of testosterone. This increased amount of testosterone causes male elephants to become aggressive and at the same time trigger an increase in sexual activity in these elephants. This state of musth lasts a few days to about a month in male elephants, but it is enough to promote conception of a future generation of elephants during mating season. After mating, a female elephant, now impregnated by the male, has to undergo a very long period of gestation of 22 months before giving birth to a young elephant.

Finally, the African Bush Elephant serves a very important niche in the savannah and the woodland. For example, this species of elephant converts areas of the forest into grassland by modifying the terrain in order to aid their search for food. Finally, the African Bush Elephant actually digs holes in the ground as they travel through their habitat, which provide areas where water can collect, providing water for other animals to consume.

Physiology

L. africana, the largest living terrestrial animal in the world, possesses several unique features that truly distinguish it from other species of elephants in Africa and Asia. Male elephants possess a length that ranges from 6 to about 7.5 meters, while females are much smaller, with a length of about 5.4 to 6.9 meters. The males are also much heavier, weighing a full 7 tons on average (about 15,000 pounds), while females weigh less at around 3 tons (about 6,000 pounds) on average.

Features in the African Bush Elephant’s body are also adapted to suit the needs of the survival of this species in this habitat. This species of elephant possesses 2 large and flappy ears, which enable excess heat to radiate out of the elephant’s body, cooling its internal body temperature in the hot savannah habitat. In addition, the African Bush Elephant has thick strong skin that prevents parasites and other small bugs of the savannah habitat from infecting it with deadly diseases. Along with its skin, the African Bush Elephant has a very long and powerful trunk made purely out of muscle that allows this organism to obtain and store water for consumption at a later time. Two large ivory tusks at opposite ends of the elephant’s jaw help the elephant move powerfully through objects obstructing its path in the savannah, and in some cases, are utilized as a defense mechanism against predators, such as lions or cheetahs.

Finally, the African Bush Elephant’s internal body system has adapted functionally to the vegetarian diet of the organism. Four large molars in the elephant’s jaw enable it to chew and thoroughly digest its food before it is sent to the digestive organs of the elephant for further digestion. The digestive system of the African Bush Elephant, which is specifically modified for a vegetative diet via specialized digestive juices and enzymes, eventually absorbs the nutrients of the food the elephant consumes, and disposes the waste of the food as nutrient rich waste. This soon fertilizes the savannah land and allows for more vegetative growth, allowing the food cycle of the African Bush Elephant to continue for generations to come.

References

Attribution

Author

  • various students

Supervising Faculty

  • Douglas Wilkin

Affiliation

  • CK-12 Writing Program

Status

  • Published prior to review.

Edit History

  • Created: November 29, 2011
  • Version 1.0 submitted to CK-12: May 25, 2012
  • CK-12 edits: in progress

Level

  • High School (grades 9-12)

Image Attributions

Description

Subjects:

Grades:

6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12

Date Created:

Apr 17, 2012

Last Modified:

Dec 05, 2014
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