Posted in Africa, Elephants, Photography, Travel

Your Daily Elephant: “Ears!”

African elephants can be recognized by big ears that mimic the shape of Africa.  They use them like large fans, elephant air-conditioning.

An elephant produces enough metabolic heat to warm a small house, or light two hundred sixty-watt bulbs.  Elephants are pachy-dermed, thick-skinned.  They don’t have sweat glands.  Instead, their ears act like giant heat exchangers, regulating body temperature.  As air moves over the huge network of swollen arteries covering each ear, an elephant’s blood cools as much as nine degrees before it returns to the body.

When spread open, an elephant’s ears increase its body size by roughly twenty square feet.  That amount of surface area provides a huge stretch of skin that thermo-regulates its body.  Every twenty minutes its entire blood supply – one hundred and twenty gallons of it – is pumped through its ears.

My teeny, itsy ears are built somewhat the same as an elephant’s ears, with an upper rim of cartilage and a fleshy, lower lobe.  But I don’t have an auriculo-occipitalis, an ear muscle the size of a weightlifter’s bicep.  I can’t flap my ears.  I can’t even wiggle them.

photograph by Cheryl Merrill
photograph by Cheryl Merrill


Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

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