Elephants are among the most recognizable animals in the world. The biggest land animals on earth, they’re known for their intelligence and empathy, as well as their huge size and impressive trunks. Female elephants are called cows, and their babies are called calves. Cows play an important role in leading the herd and protecting other elephants’ livelihoods.
Types of Elephants
There are two species of elephants: the African elephant, and the Asian elephant. If you want to distinguish between the two, you only need to look at their size. African elephants have much bigger ears and are heavier and larger in stature than their Asian cousins.
Interestingly, both male and female African elephants grow tusks, but the prominent ivory teeth are not found on any female Asian elephants. Elephants will use their tusks as a defensive weapon, but they also come in handy day-to-day as a tool to dig, lift objects, or gather food.
Leaders of the Herd
Elephants have a well-defined social structure led by females. Both African and Asian elephants typically live in groups called herds. According to the hSan Diego Zoo, each herd is led by one older cow, who is the dominant matriarch of the group. The rest of the herd is made up of the cow’s female relatives and calves. Occasionally, other female elephants will join a family group. Male elephants, called bulls, live separately from the cows and only come together when it’s time to mate.
Acting as a matriarch of a herd is an important role. The female elephants look up to their matriarch to lead them in crisis or make decisions for the group. The matriarch finds food and shelter for the group, and she teaches the younger elephants how to behave. On average, herds consist of six to 12 elephants, but that number can grow. If the herd gets too big, it’s not uncommon for several of the group to break away and form a new herd. As the leader, the matriarch will dictate the formation of a new group.
Interesting Female Facts
Female elephants have one of the largest gestation periods of any animals. Asian elephants have a gestation period of 18 to 22 months, while African elephants have a gestation of 22 months. Most elephants give birth only two or three times in a decade, and most suckle their young for several years.
More About Elephants
There’s no doubt that females are the ones in charge in elephant society. Here are some other fun elephant facts:
- Aside from apes, elephants are thought to be the most intelligent land mammals.
- An adult elephant eats 50 tons of food a year.
- Just as humans are left-handed or right-handed, elephants are known to favor one tusk more than the other.
- African elephants live an average of 70 years in the wild, while an Asian elephant’s life span is about 48 years.
- Research reveals that elephants show empathy, and they even appear to mourn their dead.