How Long are Elephants Pregnant?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 14, 2021


You’ve probably heard the term “Breeding like rabbits!” Well, that does not apply to elephants, at all. Elephants have the longest pregnancies of all mammals. Rabbits can have a litter of babies after 25-28 days (about a month) whereas elephants are pregnant for around 680 days (22 months!). They also wait longer between pregnancies averaging a wait of four years, whereas rabbits are ready to have another litter within a few days. Across all animals it is common for larger animals to have longer pregnancies and smaller animals to have shorter ones. Larger animals typically have smaller litters or single births compared to smaller animals that have more babies at once to insure their chances of survival. But having an elephant pregnancy lasting nearly 2 years? Why so long? What other animals have a similar gestation length? Are there any other animals that have longer pregnancies? Let’s find out!

Why do elephants have such long pregnancies?

Elephant pregnancy - elephant pregnancy with newborn inside
A view into elephant pregnancies

There is a correlation between intelligence and gestation length with some of the most advanced animals having the longest gestation periods. Chimpanzees have a gestation similar in length to humans. A human pregnancy is 9 months with a chimpanzee pregnancy averaging 8 months. Dolphins, another animal with advanced intelligence, have an even longer gestation of around a year. Researchers hypothesize that in order for the elephants’ brains to be fully developed to the point of surviving outside the womb, elephants need the longer gestation. After all, the elephant has the largest brain of all land animals!

How long are elephants pregnant?

African elephants are pregnant for about 22 months on average. This gives them the longest gestation period among all mammals. Asian elephants have a more variable gestation period, they’re pregnant from 18 to 22 months. Not surprisingly, their gestation period is shorter as they’re on average smaller than the two African elephant species.

What other animals have long pregnancies?

How long are elephant pregnancies - elephant baby
An elephant newborn

Looking at other mammals, the giraffe, rhino and walrus all have pregnancies longer than a year.

  • Giraffe: The giraffe pregnancy lasts around 15 months, with scientists believing they need the time to grow big enough to survive the 6-foot drop at birth. Baby giraffes are born tall enough to play basketball at 6.5 feet tall!
  • Rhinos: Rhinos have a pregnancy that lasts 15-18 months. Good thing for the mom that baby rhinos are not born with horns! Those take a few months to emerge and they continue to grow throughout their lives.
  • Walrus: Baby walruses don’t need to take swimming lessons! They are born knowing how to swim. Mother’s carry them for 15-16 months before giving birth.

Which Animal Has the Longest Pregnancy?

10 Incredible Elephant Facts - Baby Elephant
Their pregnancies are long, but they grow up fast!

Elephants have the longest pregnancy for mammals but what about other animals? The Blue Whale is the largest animal on earth; surely they must have a long pregnancy? Nope! Blue whale pregnancies are 11-12 months, so similar to dolphins. But there is a sea animal that has a longer pregnancy than an elephant.

Here’s a shocker, the animal with the longest pregnancy is believed to be the frilled shark!

The frilled shark has a pregnancy that is 3 ½ years long! In Japan, a study of these sharks showed that the pups are born alive after they emerge from their eggs and spend 3 ½ years in their mother’s womb. Frilled sharks are rare and live deep in the ocean. They look more like eels and grow to be 7-feet long. Scientists believe they have such a long pregnancy due to the cold waters they encounter near the ocean floor.The frilled shark has a pregnancy that is 3 ½ years long!

In Japan, a study of these sharks showed that the pups are born alive after they emerge from their eggs and spend 3 ½ years in their mother’s womb. Frilled sharks are rare and live deep in the ocean. They look more like eels and grow to be 7-feet long. Scientists believe they have such a long pregnancy due to the cold waters they encounter near the ocean floor. Female frilled sharks can bore litters of anywhere between two and 15 young at a time.

What animal has the shortest pregnancy?

It’s not the rabbit as you might think. Most research lists the Virginia Opossum as having the shortest gestation at 12 days, but as new species are discovered records are being challenged. Another marsupial, the Stripe-faced Dunnart has been found to have pregnancies of 11 days! But both go on to keep developing in their mothers’ pouch for weeks to follow. Compared to 200lb baby elephants, Virginia Opossums are the size of honeybees at birth and baby Dunnarts are the size of a grain of rice when they are born and crawl into their mom’s pouch!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How long are elephants pregnant for?

Elephants are pregnant for up to 22 months. African elephants have a longer gestation period than Indian elephants.