Elephants Tusks: Why So Different?

There’s a multitude of phrases one can use in an try to explain an elephant: behemoth, complicated, clever and majestic, simply to say a couple of. My favorite quote about these animals comes from South African botanist and zoologist, Lyall Watson:

“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of residing issues so unlikely they problem credulity and customary sense.”

What he says couldn’t match these animals extra. Their colossal measurement, cascading trunks, butterfly-like ears, and spearing tusks make them probably the most distinctive and stand-out animals on this planet. Right now’s weblog dives just a little deeper into one in all their most defining options – their tusks. 

Ellie Bull 2february 26 2018

Elephants’ tusks are tooth that stretch past their mouths. For many different animals, tusks are an instance of elongated canines — the tooth which might be used to tear aside meat. Nevertheless, as a result of elephants are herbivores and don’t have canine tooth, their tusks are created from elongated incisors — tooth which might be used for crushing meals.

Tusks have given elephants an unbelievable evolutionary benefit and serve quite a lot of functions: digging up roots and stripping bark to eat te cambium layer; lifting objects up and self-defence. In addition they assist to guard one in all their most vital options, their trunk.

As an elephant grows, so too does its tusk. Like our personal tooth, the tusk is made up of dentine, a tough, dense, bony tissue and is wrapped in enamel. Enamel is likely one of the hardest animal tissues and may stand up to loads of put on and tear.

When coming throughout herds of elephants, you begin to discover how completely different all of the tusks are. Similar to how people have completely different tooth, so do elephants.  Usually talking, the tusks of male elephants develop at a sooner charge than the females. This ends in males having bigger tusks than females and that is vital in bull elephants’ dominance shows. The strongest and fittest bulls with bigger tusks move their genes to the subsequent era.

Male elephant tusks are sometimes 5 to seven instances as massive as these of grownup females.

There are extra modifications we see in elephant tusks that stretch past female and male measurement variations. Similar to most issues, we should additionally contemplate the environmental and genetic influences that affect the expansion and variations of those tusks.

Out in nature, there are dynamics throughout the atmosphere that have an effect on change in sure animals and their anatomy. Right here we see many elephants with one tusk longer than the opposite, or people who solely bear one tusk. The rationale for this has to do with the every day actions of elephants.

Elephants with one tusk bigger than the opposite

The rationale for that is fairly easy: elephants present a desire for one tusk over the opposite. Many animals show this lateral dominance, identical to left- or right-handedness in people. Within the case of elephants, it usually ends in one tusk that’s strikingly completely different to its neighbour.

Elephant bull, tusks, black and white PT

Elephants will favour a particular tusk to debark bushes, dig up roots and carry objects. These actions trigger the favoured tusk to be worn down.

Elephants with just one tusk

 Similar to us, elephants may also have issues with their tooth. Whereas we would break a tooth by unexpectedly biting into one thing exhausting, elephants can chip a tusk or break it off in fights to implement their proper to mate. They’ll additionally crack and break their tusks whereas toppling big bushes to succeed in the nutritious new leaves that might in any other case be out of attain. Debarking Marula bushes to succeed in the succulent cambium layer beneath the outer bark may also trigger injury to their dominant tusk. Or injury to the tooth whereas very younger stopping one from ever rising.

Low Elephant Sunset

If an elephant breaks its tusk, it is not going to develop again. Similar to how if we lose a tooth as an grownup it is not going to develop again.

 There are particular person traits of sure elephants that transcend being affected by their every day actions, these particular person traits are issues that an elephant is born with and can’t change. With regards to tusks, some elephant herds maintain genes that contribute to people having very skew tusks, and even no tusks in any respect.

Elephants with skew tusks

When discovering completely different herds of elephants across the reserve, it’s enjoyable to note that herds will usually have people with particular tusk traits that differentiate them from different herds. Similar to people, genetics play a big position in the best way an elephant’s tusk grows. For instance, if each my mom and father have skew tooth, odds are my tooth may also develop to be skewed. If one of many dad and mom of an elephant has skew tusks, that trait could possibly be handed right down to their offspring.


As a result of females will keep of their maternal herds and are all carefully associated, it’s doubtless that they are going to share that trait of getting skew tusks.

Elephants with no tusks in any respect

Whereas many elephants use their tusks as helpful instruments and weapons, not all elephants even have tusks. ‘Tusklessness’ is a pure genetic trait in feminine elephants with roughly 6% being born with out tusks. This attribute, nonetheless, is a bit more sophisticated as a result of it initially arose from environmental influences.

Elephant Tusk1

Earlier than artificial plastics and supplies, ivory was the very best materials to make use of for quite a lot of issues – elephant tusks can nearly be thought-about the pre-Twentieth-century plastic.

Traditionally, elephant tusks have been a sought-after materials for people. Right now we make most instruments out of plastic, however for 1000’s of years, ivory was among the many finest, if not the perfect, choice for buttons, hairpins, chopsticks, spear suggestions, bow suggestions, needles, combs, buckles, handles, and so forth. For a few of these objects (piano keys being probably the most distinguished instance), we didn’t have a comparable various till very not too long ago.

Elephants with the most important tusks had been focused, which means that there was a discount of these animals that reproduced and handed on that big-tusk gene.

Sadly, due to the demand for ivory, which grew between 1979 and 1989, the ‘massive tuskers’ had been the primary to be poached for his or her distinguished tusks. This meant that elephants with probably the most distinguished tusks had been taken out of the breeding pool.

NS Baby Elephant Portrait Black and White

Elephants with out tusks weren’t hunted, in order that they had been capable of mate and have their genes handed on to the subsequent era.

Fortuitously, the ivory commerce has been lowered in lots of elements of Africa and different supplies are being utilised for on a regular basis instruments and devices.

The distinctiveness of elephants is so evident, and the individualisation of their tusks and the way they use them is just one small facet that makes these giants so attention-grabbing to look at. To return to Watson’s quote, I actually do suppose it could be nearly unimaginable to try to recreate an elephant if it didn’t exist.