Elephant, African – Teeth

Loxodonta africana


Elephants have 26 teeth in all, 24 of these are molars and the final two are the tusks. These modified incisors of the upper jaw grow continuously throughout the elephant’s life. However, some elephants are tuskless due to a chance genetic mutation. An elephant will use its tusks for digging, fighting and accessing food such as the inner bark of trees which is highly nutritious. Vote for more elephant facts at African elephant and the elephant’s trunk.

Conservation status : Vulnerable
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Proboscidea
Family : Elephantidae
Genus : Loxodonta
Species : L. africana

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A genetic mutation means not all elephants have tusks.

Man’s hunting of elephants with big tusks over the last 100 years has led to a reduction of the average size of tusks. This is due to the “big tusker gene” being gradually wiped out.

Once an elephant has worn down its sixth and final set of molars it will no longer be able to chew its food properly. As a result it will slowly starve and become more susceptible to disease.

The elephant’s tusks are modified incisor teeth made up of fine-grained hard dentine that’s formed in layers.

Every 15 minutes an African elephant is killed for its ivory tusks. The illegally sourced and traded ivory is carved into jewellery and ornaments.

The heaviest tusks recorded were found near Mt Kilimanjaro and weighed in at 102.3 kg and 97.3 kg.

Elephants chew their food with a forward/back motion unlike all other herbivores whose jaw chews in a sideways motion.

In addition to a pair of tusks elephants have a further 24 teeth. These are molars which are in six sets of four, as one set is worn down it gets replaced by the next set pushing in from behind.

The word elephant is derived from the Greek word, elaph, meaning ivory.