Given their large size, you can probably guess that elephants eat a massive amount of food. In fact, because they are the biggest land animals in the world, the amount of calories an elephant consumes in a 24 hour period would be enough to sustain a human being for several months.
While we know elephants eat a lot, you might be wondering “what do elephants eat?”. This question is a bit more tricky to answer if you aren’t an expert in these magnificent animals. Thankfully, in this article, we’re going to answer this question and more!
Are you familiar with the eating patterns of elephants? Believe it or not, they are herbivores – let’s dive into what that means.
The Latin word “herbivora” means “to eat a small plant or herb”’. That means herbivorous animals only consume vegetables and other forms of vegetation. An elephant’s diet consists of plants and shrubs.
Over time, elephants have evolved to be able to live off of the green of the earth and nearby bodies of water. The need for a vegetation-rich diet eventually aided in transforming their body entirely. For example, elephants are equipped with flat teeth to help them grind their food and tusks to strip bark from a tree.
Unlike humans who grow baby teeth that are then replaced by adult teeth, elephants continually replace rows of their teeth throughout their lifetime. Elephants are one of the few mammals to be a polyphyodont.
It’s no surprise that elephants eat a ton of food every day – about 70 kg of food to be exact. They also drink an insane amount of water – around 45 liters every day!
However, the amount of food an elephant consumes can depend on their environment and food availability. For example, if an elephant lives in a hotter climate they are likely to drink more water than their temperate region counterparts. In some areas, elephants are required to drink huge amounts of water in a single sitting to compensate for the scarcity of water nearby. Elephants will travel around 10-20 km a day just to find an appropriate amount of food and water for their entire herd.
Experts have recorded some elephants traveling up to 180 km per day for food in the Etosha region of Namibia. They are willing to do whatever it takes! Elephants are sure to stick with their herd when searching for food and will enjoy the fruits of the labor together.
Considering their size, elephants cannot be picky when it comes to food in order to keep their energy up. They will eat anything from leaves, twigs, bark, roots, fruits and flowers. In fact, they will eat anything if it’s nearby vegetation.
Otherwise, they drink water from any nearby body of water. In the hotter regions, they use water to regulate their body temperature and cool off. Excessive amounts of water are required to keep them hydrated daily. While the plants of the different regions may vary, elephants generally eat the same things.
Surrounded by forest trees, African elephants eat from the bounty of trees and bushes to preserve their health. It can be difficult for African elephants to stumble upon long grasslands.
But an adult can eat an entire tree. For the kids, they tend to stick to the small stuff like twigs, leave, bark, and fruit. African elephants have been coined with the nickname “browsers” because of their habit to browse from one tree to the other for sustenance.
Grasslands are plentiful for the Asian elephants, and they take advantage of it by eating a variety of grasses, woody plants, or trees.
In the dryer areas of Asia, elephants may rely on some bushes with thorns. Otherwise, Asian elephants’ diet is very similar to their African cousins which features twigs, bark, leaves, and roots.
Asian elephants have been coined with the nickname “grazers” because of how they mozy on the grasslands and eat vegetation that is lower to the ground.
Savanna elephants indulge in weeds such as Prickly Pear, Mesquite, and Rubber Vine. Elephants in this region prefer the Acacia and Bushwillow trees for munching.
Fun fact: In order to help with digestion, baby elephants will often eat their mother’s dung.
Elephants’ large frame requires a huge amount of food to sustain themselves. They could never eat a twig and sleep the rest of the day.
There are a few reasons why elephants eat around 150 kg of food and drink 40 liters of water every day:
- They need copious amounts of energy found in food to survive.
- Traveling 15-30 km with a lot of weight requires excessive amounts of food to manage the journey.
- In the drier areas, where water is scarce, elephants need to drink a large amount of water to stay hydrated.
Elephants require so much food because the majority of the food they eat does not digest. Since their bodies are not digesting, they are always craving more energy and therefore, more food.
But elephants have a day long digestion period. That means they have to wait an entire day before loading up the calories again. Plus, elephants only sleep around 3-4 hours a day. Just reading that is enough to make anyone feel exhausted!
See a brief list of what elephants eat below:
- Tree bark
No. Elephants are considered herbivores, which means they do not eat meat. Instead they snack on vegetation such as twigs, shrubs, bushes, and leaves. They’re also known to enjoy fruits and tree bark. Other animals, like lions, tigers, and cheetahs, are a few carnivores that eat meat.
Yes, elephants eat bananas, since they grow from the earth. With that being said, you would need a lot of bananas to satisfy an elephant’s hunger!
Zookeepers pay close attention to their elephants in order to provide a precise diet every day. They record the body-mass index of the elephant and activity levels to ensure they are receiving an appropriate amount of food.
Elephants are generally given hay, fruits, pellets and vegetables at the zoo while browsing through the available shrubs and trees.
If you’ve read this article, then you should be able to answer the question ‘what do elephants eat?” whenever someone asks you. As you can see, elephants consume a lot of food and a wide variety of it as well.
The simplest way to describe an elephant’s diet, though, is to say they are ‘herbivores’. Unlike other animals in the wild — who are carnivorous, meaning they consume meat — elephants like to chow down on plants and fruits.