21 Facts To Take You Inside The Life And Mind Of An Elephant

From their impressive physicality to their extraordinary memories, it’s not much of a surprise that elephants have historically been objects of both popular fascination and even religious devotion. With that in mind, here are a few elephant facts you’ve surely never heard:

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Elephant Facts

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images Elephants sometimes use their tusks in fights, but they're generally peaceful creatures. Most of the time, they use their tusks for digging, lifting objects, gathering food, and stripping bark to eat from trees. Elephants also have a dominant tusk, similar to the dominant hand a human uses to write.

Elephant Soccer Ball

Alexander Koerner/Getty ImagesAn elephant's trunk is actually a long nose containing more than 100,000 muscles.

Elephant Swim

Biju Boro/AFP/Getty ImagesAfrican elephants may have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom; they can detect water sources from up to 12 miles away.

Elephant Ears

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty ImagesElephants get warm very easily, so their huge ears work like fans which they use to cool down.

Elephants Grass

Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images Like dolphins and primates, elephants have shown signs of self-awareness, able to recognize themselves in a mirror.

Elephants Water Hole

Chris Jek/AFP/Getty ImagesElephants are social animals: They greet each other by stroking or wrapping their trunks together.

Elephants Cooling Down

Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images Elephants not only can swim, they're pretty good at it, too. It probably helps that they use their trunk as a snorkel.

Asian Elephant

Ishara S. Kodikara /AFP/Getty ImagesAsian elephants were once domesticated for battle, but are now captured for use in the tourism and entertainment industry. As you might guess, they are currently classified as an endangered species.

African Elephant

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty ImagesAccording to the World Wildlife Fund, there may have been as many as three million African elephants in the early 20th century. Due to poaching, there are now around 470,000.

Elephant Babies

Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images Female elephants are pregnant for 22 months, the longest gestation period of any mammal.

Elephant Bath

Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty ImagesResearchers at the University of Sussex found that elephants can identify a person's gender and age purely based on the sound of his or her voice.

Cow And Calf Elephants

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that elephants can identify one another as friends, family members, or strangers based on how they smell.

Elephant Dust

Money Sharma/AFP/Getty ImagesElephants have their own "sunscreen," and spray their bodies with sand to protect themselves from the sun.

Elephant Family

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images Female elephants live in herds, with the oldest female elephant leading the group. Males leave their family around age 12 to form their own all-male groups.

Elephant Grazing

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty ImagesElephants have big appetites and tiny sleep needs: Even though African elephants consume 160 liters of water and 300 kilograms of food a day, they only need to sleep three or four hours.

Elephant Herd

Tony Karumba/ AFP/Getty ImagesElephants really do have incredible memories: Scientific American reported that elephants can remember droughts and other extreme weather conditions, which allows them to return to places where they know there will be food or water. They can also remember elephants they've met in the past, and keep track of up to 30 other members of their family.

Elephant Mud

Tony Karumba/ AFP/Getty ImagesElephants maintain a strict skincare regimen. They take regular mud baths to retain moisture and protect from the harsh sun and insect bites.

Asian Elephant Water

Lakruwan Wanniarachchi /AFP/Getty ImagesA 2012 study found that an Asian elephant named Koshik figured out how to imitate human speech -- in this case Korean -- as a way to bond with his human trainers.

Elephant Tusks

Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty ImagesThe United Nations reports that 100 elephants are killed for their tusks each day; the ivory trade poses the biggest threat to elephants.

Male Elephant Loner

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty ImagesElephants hold a sacred place in Eastern religious mythology. The Hindu god Ganesh is depicted as a man with an elephant's head, and according to another story, Buddha was reincarnated as a white elephant with six tusks.

Elephants Friendly

Lakruwan Wanniarachchi /AFP/Getty ImagesA study from the National Primate Research Center observed elephants comforting their distressed friends by stroking their trunks.

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41 Photos That Reveal The Otherworldly Beauty Of Socotra

Dragon Blood Socotra Yemen

Rod Waddington/FlickrDragon’s blood trees, found only on Socotra

SOME 150 MILES EAST OF THE HORN OF AFRICA and 250 miles south of the Arabian Peninsula lies the island of Socotra. Alone amid the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, the Yemen-controlled island has remained remarkably isolated from the outside world for millennia. And left in its own little bubble, it has grown to look like no other place on Earth — something that can be said about fewer and fewer places as the 21st century ticks on.

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10 Sex-Changing Animals That Don’t Adhere To Gender Roles

Gender absolutely exists on a spectrum — and these animals prove it.

Three

Getty Images/ATI Composite

For definitive proof that gender is indeed fluid, look no further than the animal kingdom. There, certain organisms change their reproductive identities or adapt the behavior of the opposite sex based on a time-specific need. Some animals even have working male and female genitalia.

Here are ten fascinating animals whose sex isn’t black-and-white:

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