Why Do Some Elephants Have Very Large Ears?
African elephants have larger ears than Indian, or Asiatic, elephants because they live in hotter conditions and are bigger and more aggressive and active. The huge ears of the African elephant, sometimes three and a half feet wide, enable it to hear more acutely. When the animal charges it fans out its ears, augmenting its terrible appearance and striking fear into the heart of any enemy.
On the inside of an elephant’s ears, you will find a web of tiny blood vessels. The skin of the ear is very thin, and the blood vessels are very close to the surface. When the temperature of the elephant’s blood is greater than the temperature of his surroundings, heat is released from the ears.
Heat-releasing blood vessels aren’t the only useful function of an elephant’s ears. They also act like giant fans. As elephants flap their ears back and forth, they create a light breeze that can speed up the cooling process. It is a bit like stepping out of a cool shower and standing in front of a fan. An elephant’s ears can cool its body by up to 5° Celcius (that’s 9° Farenheit)!
The ears also present a large surface for losing body-heat. African elephants, who are at a disadvantage in the heat because of their large size, wave their ears to keep cool and to chase away flies. The African elephant is the biggest and noblest of land animals, reaching a height of 11 feet and a weight nearly six tons.
The Asiatic elephant is smaller. It inhabits the forests of South-east Asia from India to Ceylon and Borneo. It does not like heat and seeks the deep shade of the forest and don’t have to endure the same extreme temperatures as their African cousins. As a result, Asian elephants have smaller ears than African elephants.
On hot days, you may even see elephants rolling around in mud, taking a dip in a pond, or using their trunks like hoses to spray down their bodies. The heat then leaves their bodies by flowing into the cooler mud or water.