Happy EleFACT Friday. We’ve shared some information about the complexities of elephant skin before, but today we want to talk about all of their wrinkled glory that we know and love.
Wrinkles, like on elephants and other mammals, help keep the animals cool. The only sweat glands in an elephant’s body exist in the cuticles of their feet, making heat regulation difficult. Their baggy and wrinkly skin helps disperse the heat across their body. If you could look at an elephant’s skin up close, you would see a pretty developed network of tiny crevices that retain both water and mud, which helps protect the skin against the sun; these crevices also regulate temperature and prevent dehydration.
The wrinkles in their skin actually trap moisture in the hollows and crevices, which helps prolong the evaporation of that moisture. This helps keep the elephant cooler for longer. If you’ve ever wondered why savanna elephants appear to be more wrinkled than forest elephants, it’s because their bodies have adapted to harsher temperatures without the benefit of shade. These wrinkles actually allow the animal to retain five to ten times more moisture than smooth skin could.
It’s actually been said that elephant skin actually has a lot in common with the human skin disease “ichthyosis vulgaris.” This condition affects one out of every 250 people and prevents the shedding of dead skin cells. While this would be a problem for a human, it proves to be highly beneficial for African elephants. As skin cells collect on top of one another, the other layer bends in a way that creates the wrinkles that we see. Shedding skin would not allow for those very important wrinkles.
Photo of Lady, showing off her wrinkles (and her hay hat!).