Proboscidean Power…. No tapirs allowed

If you can tell by my title, my favorite animal order (yes I’m kind of fond of mammals go figure) is the order Proboscidea…which I failed to pronounce for most of my life anyway.  Yes, this is the group that elephants and their relatives, ancestors, etc. belong to.   Or to be exact, the “trunk animals group”.  Animals that have developed a boneless muscular proboscis to as their primary appendage.  Elephants were my favorite animal as a child, and even today are on my top ten animal list.  Why you ask?  Well, they have one of the most unique appearances in the animal kingdom.  An intelligence level on par with cetaceans, primates, and parrots* and corvids.   They’re empathetic creatures.

   But since this piece is called Proboscidean power, let’s do a brief rundown of the evolutionary history.  One of the prominent early proboscideans was Moeritherium.  Generally, these creatures had a semi-aquatic lifestyle, not unlike that of a hippo.  One would probably compare them to pigs or tapirs, rather than to modern elephants.  Gradually, members of Proboscidea began growing larger, as well as developing a more prominent proboscis.  Perhaps the most famous elephant relative is the woolly mammoth, on par in status with many “stock dinosaurs” despite not being one.  Contrary to popular belief, mammoths were not actually ancestors of modern elephants, but were closely related to asian elephants.

Today, there is one extant family, Elephantidae.  It houses the Asian elephant Elephas maximus as well as the African Elephant Loxodonta africana.  There are a few subspecies like the Bornean Elephant and the African forest elephant (which is probably its own species).  Only the Asian Elephant has been domesticated and very precariously at that.  Bull elephants all go through a period of high testosterone levels known as musth, where they become much more aggressive.  Many a mahout have suffered injuries due to this neglect.  Unfortunately, domestication can be a cruel process; elephants are beaten into submission and forced to obey whims.

Elephants are most closely related to the Sirenians (dugongs and manatees) and Hyraxes.  Similarities can be drawn from dental structure and feet.  Together, they form the only extant members of Paenungulata.  All three groups are part of the larger superorder Afrotheria, which include aardvarks, tenrecs, elephant shrews, and many other unique creatures.

Proboscidean evolution is nevertheless a popular model to use to teach others about evolutionary history, on par with hominid evolution.   The way the group has changed over millions of years is quite astounding.  Each species is worth taking a look at.  Habits, habitats, and appearances are all fairly diverse.  Hopefully, I can find another group that equals proboscidea in its captivating qualities.

PS: I know that tapirs are more closely related rhinos and other perissodactyls*.

* Thanks Albertonykus

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  1. #1 by Albertonykus on June 23, 2011 - 3:51 am

    You missed corvids and parrots in your list of intelligent animals. XD And humans are primates, that’s redundant. Also, ungulates aren’t a natural group; perissodactyls are closer to carnivorans and bats than to artiodactyls. (Pegasoferae is the group containing perissodactyls, carnivorans, bats, and pangolins. It’s named after Pegasus, because it includes bats and horses, ha.) /endnitpicking You know your proboscideans though. What is your top ten animal list?

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