Hairy Elephants: What is the Purpose of Elephant Hair?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 15, 2021
Image Credit celluloidphotos/Shutterstock.com
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Baseball players may have superstitions about shaving based on batting averages and winning streaks. Some players have even been known to shave off their ‘stache mid-game for good luck! But besides increasing the chances the Yankees will win, why do humans have hair? Humans are the only mammal that has hair on their heads but very little hair on the rest of their bodies. Three reasons humans have hair may be to protect our heads from the sun, to keep our heads (and brains) warm at night and to aid in choosing a mate! Do elephants do the comb-over to attract a mate? Are they covered in hair to help protect them from the African sun? Let’s find out everything to know about elephant hair!

Elephants have Built-in Air Conditioning!

Elephant Hair - Close up of hair on an elephant's back
Elephant back hair

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According to a study done at Princeton University, researchers discovered that the hairs on elephants serve as a cooling mechanism drawing heat away from the body, “perhaps in a similar fashion to the way previous research suggests spines help cool plants such as cacti.”

Many animals have hair or fur to keep them warm. Think about the enormous polar bear and its thick coat of fur. But the researchers found when the hair was sparse, like on elephants, it serves as a coolant. Elephants use other techniques to keep cool as well, like using their trunks to suck up water and splash it on their backs. Their large ears also play an important role in in temperature control. The researchers discovered the hair is extra helpful on windless days where the wind is not contributing to keeping the giant animals cool.

Which elephants have the most hair?

Elephant Hair - Baby Elephant Hair
A close up of the amount of hair on a baby Asian elephant!

celluloidphotos/Shutterstock.com

  • Asian elephants have more hair than African elephants.
  • Baby elephants have more hair than adult elephants.
  • Baby Asian elephants have the most hair. Their bodies are covered in a dark reddish-brown hair that covers most of their bodies.

Where’s the Hair?

Elephants have hair all over their bodies but unevenly scattered. The most hair is around their eyes, ears, chin, trunk tip and the end of their tail. Let’s dig into the purpose of hair across their bodies.

Elephant trunk hair

Elephant Trunk Hair - Elephant trunk
Hair on the trunk of an elephant

Mikhail Kolesnikov/Shutterstock.com

Elephant trunks have a low amount of hair across them, but it’s consistent. Like other parts of their body where there are light amounts of hair, trunk hair effectively cools the trunks of elephants. Interestingly, “elephant trunk hair” is also a hair style that is reminiscent of what you saw in the movie Grease!

Elephant tail hair: a built in fly swatter!

The hair at the end of their tail is coarse and is used as a built-in fly swatter keeping the pesky flies from landing and biting. The hair at the end of their trunks is super sensitive almost like cats whiskers. They can use the senses in these hairs to locate food and to sense where the rest of the herd is so they can stay close to their mother when needed.

If elephants are relatives of wooly mammoths why did mammoths have so much hair?

Asian elephants have been linked to their ancestors, the wooly mammoth. Mammoths are thought to have a heavy fur coat. The reason? Two words, Ice Age. Mammoths needed a way to manage their temperatures during the ice age to stay warm and so they had huge winter coats made of fur. Elephants that live in hot Asian climates and African savannas certainly don’t need a fur coat!

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".