Elephant Evolution

    Elephant Evolution

    Elephant Evolution: Elephants evolved over a period of millions of years. It took 60 million years for elephants to evolve their long tusks and trunks. The earliest ancestors of elephants looked nothing like elephants.

    As time went by, the bodies of the animals became larger, the trunks of the animals became longer, and the teeth of the animals turned into tusks.

    Let’s explore the ancestors of elephants starting from the earliest in more detail below:

    Elephant Evolution


    Moeritherium (Source: Wikimedia)
    Aspect Details
    Meaning Moeris beast
    Time of Discovery Early 1900s
    Named By Charles Williams Andrews
    Year of Naming 1901
    Place Lived North America
    Time Lived 37-35 million years ago
    Period Lived Eocene Period
    Weight About 90 kg
    Length About 2.4 m

    Moeritherium is a genus of animals that are ancestors of elephants. Moeritherium was named after Lake Moeris combined with Ancient Greek.

    • Animals in this genus were proboscideans meaning it was of the order Proboscidea. Their upper lip was very long (it might have been used to hold plants).
    • Moeritherium animals were also related to manatees (also known as sea cows). Moeritherium animals had sturdy legs. The teeth of Moeritherium animals looked like small tusks, but they looked more like the teeth of a hippo.
    • Based on studies of their skulls, scientists think these animals did not have a trunk. They had strong legs and a short tail. These animals were as long as a horse, and as heavy as a boar.
    • They are in fact closely related to hippos than elephants. These animals had many traits similar to that of hippos. Moeritherium animals are technically pachyderms.
    Suggested Reading: What Do Hippos Eat?


    Deinotherium (Source: Wikimedia)
    Aspect Details
    Meaning Terrible Beast
    Time of Discovery Early 1800s
    Named By Johann Jakob Kaup
    Year of Naming 1829
    Place Lived What is now Africa, Asia, and Europe
    Time Lived 10 million years ago to 10,000 years ago
    Period Lived Miocene-Modern Period
    Weight About 10886 kg
    Length About 6 m

    Deinotherium is a genus of animals that are ancestors of elephants that resemble elephant more than animals of the genus Moeritherium.

    • The word Deinotherium was derived from the Ancient Greek language.
    • These animals originated from Europe, but they then traveled to different continents like Asia.
    • Animals in this genus had a very short trunk. Animals in Deinotherium had tusks as well, but unlike modern-day elephants, animals in this genus had their tusks in their lower jaw meaning the tusks pointed downwards instead of upwards like elephants today.
    • These animals were longer than Asian elephants. The reason why these animals went extinct was because of climate change and human interference (hunting).


    Gomphotherium (Source: Wikimedia)
    Aspect Details
    Meaning Welded Beast
    Time of Discovery Early 1800s
    Named By Hermann Burmeister
    Year of Naming 1837
    Place Lived What is now North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa
    Time Lived 15-10 million years ago
    Period Lived Miocene-Pliocene Period
    Weight About 4535 kg
    Length 3.9 m

    Unlike modern elephants, animals in the genus Gomphotherium had two sets of tusks – one coming from their upper jaw and one from the lower jaw.

    • The lower tusks were used to shovel up plant matter from lakes that were flooded.
    • Gomphotherium animals lived during the Miocene period and Pliocene period.
    • Believe it or not, animals in the genus of Gomphotherium were about two times the length of a king-size bed.
    • Also they were lighter than modern-day elephants. Gomphotherium animals were about 3 meters tall.

    Woolly Mammoth

    Woolly Mammoth
    Woolly Mammoth
    Aspect Details
    Meaning No meaning
    Time of Discovery Late 1700s
    Named By Joshua Brookes
    Year of Naming 1828
    Place Lived What is now North America, Europe, Asia
    Time Lived 5 million years ago – 4500 thousand years ago
    Period Lived Pliocene-Holocene Period
    Weight About 5433 kg
    Length 6 m

    The woolly mammoth is the most commonly known elephant ancestor. Wooly mammoths only went extinct thousands of years ago, unlike the first three ancestors.

    • Just like African elephants, woolly mammoths had two fingers on their trunks. Woolly mammoths would have been almost the same size as an elephant today.
    • Early humans hunted woolly mammoths for their ivory as well as meat. Unlike modern-day elephants, woolly mammoths were covered completely with hair.
    • The habitat of a woolly mammoth is called a mammoth steppe or tundra steppe. Scientists have tried to recreate woolly mammoths using DNA found, but so far, it is not working.

    Steppe Mammoth

    Steppe Mammoth
    Steppe Mammoth (Source: Wikimedia)
    Aspect Details
    Meaning No meaning
    Time of Discovery Unknown
    Named By Unknown
    Year of Naming N/A
    Place Lived What is now Europe and Asia
    Time Lived 600,000-370,000 thousand years ago
    Period Lived Pleistocene Period
    Weight About 19958 kg
    Length 7 m

    The steppe mammoth was two times the size of a modern elephant.

    • One difference between woolly mammoths and steppe mammoths is that steppe mammoths are not covered with hair like woolly mammoths.
    • The full skeleton of this humongous animal is still yet to be found.
    • This mammoth’s tusks could grow as long as 4.9 meters.
    • The most complete skeleton of a steppe mammoth was found in 1996.

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    Cite This Page

    BioExplorer.net. (2024, April 13). Elephant Evolution. Bio Explorer. https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.
    BioExplorer.net. "Elephant Evolution" Bio Explorer, 13 April 2024, https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.
    BioExplorer.net. "Elephant Evolution" Bio Explorer, April 13 2024. https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.


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