How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Elephants

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When you see elephants and wonder what gender they might be, and you can't spot any clearly male or female organs, you can still make a good guess based on other visual clues. When a species has male and female bodies differing in physical traits, it's called sexual dimorphism. Some of these traits are easier to identify in adults than they are in juveniles.

Check For Body Size

Compare body sizes among a group of elephants, to get a hint at which are males. In both the African and Indian elephants, the adult males are distinguished by their larger body size. This isn't always reliable, though, when there's only one elephant or when there's a herd which might include juvenile males not yet grown larger than their mothers.

Hints In the Shape of the Spine

Look at the elephant's spinal profile. Female elephants have straighter spines which curve abruptly to a boxed rump, according to the San Diego Zoo. Male elephants have curvier spines blending smoothly into a more rounded rump.

Tusks May or May Not Help Identification

You can't always rely on the presence of tusks as a marker of gender. Both male and female African elephants have tusks. Female Asian elephants never have long tusks, but neither do some males, called "makhnas." Research reported in Nature India suggests tusks are not an important advantage in sparring for mating dominance, so it's likely that they'll fade away over many generations.


About the Author

An ecological blogger, technical writer and trainer, Alex Silbajoris also leads a nonprofit watershed group. He is an avid gardener and cook. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journalism, from The Ohio State University. Other studies include geology and biological sciences.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Getty Images