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do elephants have hooves

do elephants have hooves

do elephants have hooves

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Comparative foot morphology

Comparative foot morphology involves comparing the form of distal limb structures of a variety of terrestrial vertebrates. Understanding the role that the foot plays for each type of organism must take account of the differences in body type, foot shape, arrangement of structures, loading conditions and other variables. However, similarities also exist among the feet of many different terrestrial vertebrates.

The paw of the dog, the hoof of the horse, the manus (forefoot) and pes (hindfoot) of the elephant, and the foot of the human all share some common features of structure, organization and function. Their foot structures function as the load-transmission platform which is essential to balance, standing and types of locomotion (such as walking, trotting, galloping and running).

do elephants have hooves
do elephants have hooves

 Biomimetics

The discipline of biomimetics applies the information gained by comparing the foot morphology of a variety of terrestrial vertebrates to human-engineering problems. For instance, it may provide insights that make it possible to alter the foot’s load transmission in people who wear an external orthosis because of paralysis from spinal-cord injury, or who use a prosthesis following the diabetes-related amputation of a leg.

Such knowledge can be incorporated in technology that improves a person’s balance when standing; enables them to walk more efficiently, and to exercise; or otherwise enhances their quality of life by improving their mobility.

Variability in scaling and limb coordination

There is considerable variation in the scale and proportions of body and limb, as well as the nature of loading, during standing and locomotion both among and between quadrupeds and bipeds. The anterior-posterior body mass distribution varies considerably among mammalian quadrupeds, which affects limb loading. When standing, many terrestrial quadrupeds support more of their weight on their forelimbs rather than their hind limbs.

However, the distribution of body mass and limb loading changes when they move. Humans have a lower-limb mass that is greater than their upper-limb mass. The hind limbs of the dog and horse have a slightly greater mass than the forelimbs, whereas the elephant has proportionally longer limbs. The elephant’s forelimbs are longer than its hind limbs.

Initial drift

In the horse and dog, the hind limbs play an important role in primary propulsion. The legged locomotion of humans generally distributes an equal loading on each lower limb. The locomotion of the elephant (which is the largest terrestrial vertebrate) displays a similar loading distribution on its hind limbs and forelimbs. The walking and running gaits of quadrupeds and bipeds show differences in the relative phase of the movements of their forelimbs and hind limbs, as well as of their right-side limbs versus their left-side limbs.

Many of the aforementioned variables are connected with differences in the scaling of body and limb dimension as well as in patterns of limb coordination and movement. However, little is understood concerning the functional contribution of the foot and its structures during the weight-bearing phase. The comparative morphology of the distal limb and foot structure of some representative terrestrial vertebrates reveals some interesting similarities.

do elephants have hooves
do elephants have hooves

Ungulates have hooves, elephants do not.

The structure of the elephants foot is fascinating; though their feet look flat, they’re actually walking on tip toes!

As you can see from this image, the bone structure of the elephants foot isn’t flat to the ground like a humans (without delving into the structure of the human foot).

The area underneath what would be the heel of the foot is a soft, cartilage pad. Elephants are great migrators, travelling up to 25km per day across African Savannah or through dense, mountainous jungles, so they need to protect bone, ligaments and nerves from premature damage, which this pad helps them do.

Elephants can communicate over vast distances too, most of which is inaudible to humans, through deep rumbles and vibrations through the earth. This is then picked up by the elephants feet, relaying messages across vast distances. To be honest, if you’re close enough to a moody elephant, you can sense it in be air – they make everyone know they’re in a mood!

200 million years ago

Our very earliest, rodentlike ancestors likely trod the earth some 200 million years ago on tiny, flat feet. As the posture of those feet evolved, so, too, did the size of mammals, according to a new study, giving rise to everything from the tip-toed African lion to the relatively flat-footed human.

“It’s an excellent paper,” says Christofer Clemente, an expert on the evolution of locomotion at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, who wasn’t involved in the work. “It’s a really clever idea to link these things.”

To conduct the study, Manabu Sakamoto, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom; Tai Kubo, a paleontologist at the University of Tokyo; and colleagues assembled a data set of 880 living mammal species and their foot posture. The team divided the postures into three major categories: plantigrade (flat-footed), digitigrade (tiptoed), or unguligrade (hooved).

Tiptoed

Most animals were relatively easy to place: Humans and mice are flat-footed, dogs and cats are tiptoed, horses and bison are hooved. Others presented challenges. Elephants and rhinoceroses, for example, have hooves, but don’t distribute their weight like horses do. Elephants bear their great weight on their heels, earning them a place in the flat-footed category, whereas rhinos actually walk on the balls of their feet, putting them in the tiptoed category.

Next, the researchers plotted these species on a family tree that traces the branching evolutionary history of all known mammalian life. They filled in the likely foot postures of extinct animals based on their relationships with the living species from their data set. Their model suggests the earliest ancestral mammal was probably flat-footed, they report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But size was the biggest surprise: On average, tiptoed mammals tend to be about twice as massive as flat-footed mammals, and hooved animals are typically even bigger—a whopping 57 times more massive than tiptoed ones.

do elephants have hooves
do elephants have hooves

Flat-footed elephants

There are of course outliers: Flat-footed elephants are the most massive terrestrial mammals on Earth, for example, and tiptoed dogs and cats are smaller than flat-footed humans. But the overall trend held. When the scientists mapped these changes to branch points on their phylogenetic tree—say, when the ancestor that gave rise to warthogs, elk, and giraffes evolved to walk on hooves instead of tiptoes—they found there was virtually always a rapid increase in body size.

“Throughout evolution, increases in body size tend to come in bursts at these transition points,” Sakamoto says. “It’s not a gradual thing.”

John Hutchinson

That suggests one of two possibilities: Foot posture allowed mammals to move into and flourish in new ecological niches in which being big was an advantage. Or foot posture evolved as a result of animals becoming more massive in the first place. Which came first—the hoof or the heft—remains an open question, Sakamoto says. He believes adding fossil mammals to their model in future studies could help clear up the direction of the evolutionary arrow.

“These conclusions all fit together for me, and make a lot of sense overall,” says John Hutchinson, who studies biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

The answer could shed light on other evolutionary mysteries, Clemente adds. “If we can better understand the link between body size and posture we can go back in time … and answer questions like, ‘How did the dinosaurs get so big?’ which would be really exciting.”

ELEPHANT FEET BASICS

Elephants are four-legged animals with some quite interesting feet. They are digitigrades – this is an animal that stands or walks on its toes. They do not walk like humans with their heels touching the ground. Some other animals that are also classified as digitigrades are cats, dogs and walking birds.

The foot of the elephant is pretty flat. It consists of toes and a large fat pad that is similar to a human’s heel. This pad helps spread out and reduce the pressure on its foot when it walks. It also acts as a “shock absorber,” which allows elephants to move quietly.

The sole of an elephant’s foot is ridged and pitted. You can tell the age of an elephant by looking at its footprint. The more rigid the impression is, the older an elephant is, and the smoother the print, the younger the elephant is.

CAN ELEPHANTS HEAR WITH THEIR FEET?

Elephants use seismic communication to communicate with each other. These large animals send low frequencies rumbles that are picked up by their feet through their digital cushion. Elephants have lots of nerves in their feet that help them pick up those low frequencies.

Whether elephants really hear with their feet or feel with their feet is not clearly sure. Researchers have discovered that ground vibrations can travel through an elephant’s skeleton and into its ears.

HOW BIG IS AN ELEPHANT’S FOOT?

Elephants are large animals, so of course, they have large feet. The average size of an elephant’s foot is 15 to 19 inches in length and width. The circumference of an elephant’s foot is more than four feet.

HOW MANY TOES DO ELEPHANTS HAVE?

The average elephant has five toes on each foot but not the same number of toenails. Elephants have five toenails on the front feet and four toenails on the back.

Their toenails and soles are always growing. In the wild, elephants are always walking long distances that also help trim their growing nails and soles.

ELEPHANT FOOTCARE

Regular foot care is an important aspect of an elephant’s health. Dr. Morfeld, For Elephants Founder, got a chance to discuss elephant foot care with Rebecca Wyatt, Elephant Care Professional, on the For Elephants Show.

She states that elephants are enormous animals that carry their weight on their feet. If their feet are not in good condition, their overall well-being can decline. That is why zoos ensure that elephants’ feet are regularly cared for.

In zoos, elephants do not walk long distances that help trim their toenails and soles. So, elephant conservation in zoo experts wash, scrub and trim the bottoms of their feet and toenails. That way, there is no pressure put onto their nails.

If there is too much pressure on their nails, it can cause their nails to crack and allow dirt to seep inside. This can cause abscesses and infections. To learn more about elephant foot care, listen to the full podcast episode here.

do elephants have hooves
do elephants have hooves

HELP ELEPHANT CONSERVATION IN ZOOS!

At For Elephants, we are conducting research to improve the infertility rates of elephants in zoos. You can contribute to our research by joining the “Herd of Heroes” where you can make a monthly donation of your choice. Do not forget to sign up for our newsletter!

 

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