Top 5 Surprising Elephant Facts

Written by Q.V. Hough

Intelligent, emotional and massive, elephants are more complex than we’ll ever fully understand. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In this installment, we’re counting down the most interesting facts we could find about elephants.

Special thanks to our users IrisFan FanIris for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Written by Q.V. Hough

Top 5 Facts About Elephants

Intelligent, emotional and massive, elephants are more complex than we’ll ever fully understand. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In this installment, we’re counting down the most interesting facts we could find about elephants.

#5: Small Critters Don’t “Scare” Elephants

We know that anecdotally, yes, elephants can be startled by little critters running by them. But the idea of pesky little creatures terrifying massive elephants is largely a myth. And we probably have an ancient Roman scholar to blame, as Pliny the Elder first referenced the myth in his encyclopedia called Natural History. Elephants actually have a windpipe cover known as an “epiglottis,” which debunks the idea that invasive critters may crawl up their trunk and suffocate them. Those who have studied elephants seem to say that small darting movements can spook them– but this is true of pretty much any animal. Perhaps given the size of elephants, humans just interpret a sudden change in movement as absolute terror.

#4: Elephants Detect Seismic Signals

No, that doesn’t mean they can detect earthquakes before they happen. Elephants communicate with each other audibly, and also in more covert ways. They regularly make rumbling noises at frequencies so low, humans can’t hear them. But elephants also have the ability to detect seismic activity and the long-distance locations of friends or foes. The skin on their feet and trunks allows them to sense other elephants from miles away. Elephants position themselves with a leg up and body forward in order to pinpoint the exact nature of the activity. Because they have this sensitivity, they can communicate to each other by stomping on the ground. For instance, they may want to convey a hostile message or just warn their friends about potential danger.

#3: Human-Elephant Conflict in Sri Lanka is Often Deadly

Imagine if instead a gopher or a raccoon causing trouble in your backyard, your quarrel is with a 10,000 lbs Sri Lankan elephant. When an elephant becomes a significant problem, wildlife officials often try to ease the tension by capturing and relocating the specimen to somewhere out of the way, like in a national park. However, research from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has found that these elephants don’t tend to stay put in those parks. They tend instead to head back to where they were taken from, causing human-elephant conflict along the way. Roughly 70 people, and 200 elephants are killed every year as a result of such conflicts. There is at least one creative solution that shows promise though: placing speakers in farmers’ fields and rigging them to play the sound of growling tigers and other angry predators seems to deter elephants from raiding those crops!

#2: Elephants Maintain Life-Long Social Structures

In the wild, a single matriarch elephant rules over packs of up to 15. However, males leave the pack when they become adults and form their own groups, or sometimes just live on their own. But regardless of gender, elephants abide by learned social structures. The males adhere to a “dominance hierarchy,” and in turn, researchers have learned that females become stressed once their matriarch passes away. Incidentally, the older males initially leave home when the females become aggressive. And though it’s not literally true that “elephants never forget,” there is lots of evidence to suggest that they are some of the greatest learners and rememberers in the animal kingdom. Which makes sense, given that their brains weigh 10 pounds!

#1: Elephants Have Over 70 Calls and 160 Signals

It should be no surprise that along with elephants’ impressive intelligence and well-defined social structures comes a relatively vast vocabulary. As mentioned, elephants emit low-frequency growls to convey messages and this is their primary form of communication. Communicating at such low frequencies means their calls can travel for miles, even through forest. Touching is also a key form of communication. The wrapping of trunks or the act of mutual smelling unites elephants and bolsters their sense of community. Elephants are deeply emotional, experiencing intense feelings of love, grief and rage, which makes their 70 calls and 160 signals so crucial to their relationships.

So, what fact about elephants surprises you the most? Do you still think elephants have murophobia? For more trumpeting top 10s and barely audible Top 5s, be sure to subscribe to

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