For African Bush Elephants, Wrinkles Are Cool

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A baby elephant walks behind its mother as they graze in the Amboseli National Park, southeast of Kenya's capital Nairobi
A baby elephant walks behind its mother as they graze in the Amboseli National Park, southeast of Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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LONDON (Reuters)

A study of the African bush elephant’s vast network of deep wrinkles has found it is intricately designed to help the animals keep their cool, fight off parasites and defend against sun damage, scientists said on Tuesday

The fine pattern of millions of channels means the elephant’s skin can retain five to 10 times more water than a flat surface, the scientists said.

The research, conducted by scientists at Switzerland’s University of Geneva and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

 

An elephant is pictured in Tsavo National Park
An elephant is pictured as Kenya Wildlife Service and Save The Elephants undertake the collaring of ten elephants ranging near the Standard Gauge Railway to fit them with advanced satellite radio tracking collars in Tsavo National Park, Kenya March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

 

“Because of their huge body size, and their warm and dry habitat, African elephants can avoid over-heating only by losing calories through evaporation of the water they collect in and on their skin,” researchers wrote.

The scientists found that elephant skin channels are not just folds or wrinkles, but actual fractures in the animal’s brittle outermost layer of skin. The skin grows on a tiny lattice framework, they said, causing it to fracture under mechanical stress when the animals move.

 

 

African elephants are known to love bathing, spraying and mud-wallowing, and since they have no sweat and sebum glands to keep their skin moist and supple, the tiny crevices trap and hold on to water and mud, helping to regulate body temperature.

They also form a barrier against bugs and solar radiation.

 

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Patrick Johnston)

 

Close-up picture of an elephant's skin released by the University of Geneva
A close-up picture of an elephant’s skin released by the University of Geneva on September 28, 2018. Michel Milinkovitch/University of Geneva/Handout via REUTERS

 

A pair of male elephants is seen in the Okavango Delta
A pair of male elephants is seen in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

 

Close-up picture of an elephant's skin released by the University of Geneva
A close-up picture of an elephant’s skin released by the University of Geneva on September 28, 2018. Michel Milinkovitch/University of Geneva/Handout via REUTERS