There’s More To Elephants Than You Think

You are probably familiar with elephants…

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Yeah, these guys:

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You were probably taught that there are two species of elephants, Asian elephants, and African elephants. You were also most likely taught that they’re distantly related to Wooly Mammoths.

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It’s true that for years the family Elephantidae was believed to have two extant (currently living) species: Elephas maximus (the Asian elephant) and Loxodonta africana (now known to be the African savanna or bush elephant).

However, in recent decades it has been discovered that African elephants actually fall into two species, Loxodonta cyclotis (the African forest elephant) and Loxodonta africana (the African Savanna Elephant).


(Top photo: African forest elephant; bottom photo: African savanna elephant)

Recently as of 2001, morphological comparisons of skull measurement and molecular tests were performed on nearly 300 elephants, and distinct differences were found between the two kinds of African elephants

The forest elephant differs from the savanna elephant in several distinctive ways, including:

  • Ear shape
  • Tusk anatomy
  • Distinct skull morphology

This lead scientists to often classify the forest elephant as a subspecies, L. a. cyclotis.

However, there was much controversy and these differences were often ignored.

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By using previous data gathered from mitochondrial DNA analyses, scientists have found that the closest living relative of the extinct woolly mammoth is the Asian elephant.

(Top photo: Asian elephant; bottom photo: Wooly Mammoth)

It is now believed that the two species of African elephant actually diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from the extinct genus Mammuthus (including Mammuthus primigenius, the woolly mammoth), meaning that African elephants are far less closely related than scientists once believed.

The mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) analysis suggests that wooly mammoths and Asian elephants diverged 5.8–7.8 mya (million years ago).

MtDNA analysis also suggests that the 2 species of African elephant diverged earlier; about 6.6–8.8 mya.

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Through DNA analysis scientists discovered a lot of new information about elephants. They realized that African elephants actually fall into not one, but two species. They learned about the extinct woolly mammoth, and its connections to the extant Asian elephant. Finally, scientists concluded that African elephants diverged from one another in the more distant past than Asian elephants diverged from wooly mammoths.

Do you like elephants as much as I do? What do you think about these discoveries? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sources:

African Elephant photo 1: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/species-spotlight-african-elephant

Asian Elephant photo 1: http://elelur.com/mammals/asian-elephant.html

Wooly Mammoth photo 1: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/woolly-mammoth/#woolly-mammoth-standing.jpg

Elephant family photo 1: https://iso.500px.com/baby-elephant-photos/

Nadin Rohland, David Reich, Swapan Mallick, Matthias Meyer, Richard E. Green, Nicholas J. Georgiadis, Alfred L. Roca, Michael Hofreiter “Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants” Plos Biology

Alfred L. Roca, Nicholas Georgiadis, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Stephen J. O’Brien “Genetic Evidence for Two Species of Elephant in Africa” Science Magazine

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