Elephant Evolution

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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.

We have seen that cells are of paramount importance to life, without which life is unsustainable. The cell theory describes the basic principles which surround and govern all cells of all living organisms irrespective of their internal features and differences, and this theory forms the basis and foundation of modern cell biology.

Cite This Page

BioExplorer.net. (2021, December 01). Elephant Evolution. Bio Explorer. https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.
BioExplorer.net. "Elephant Evolution" Bio Explorer, 01 December 2021, https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.
BioExplorer.net. "Elephant Evolution" Bio Explorer, December 01 2021. https://www.bioexplorer.net/animals/mammals/elephant/evolution/.


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