Way in the back of an elephant’s mouth is a set of 24 teeth. As these teeth wear down over time, a new tooth slowly moves forward to replace the lost one. By the time an elephant reaches middle age, she will have her final set of brick-sized molars.
Each of these mature molars – six in an arcade – can weigh up to eleven pounds. When an arcade of teeth wear down an elephant’s vegetation meal (like fruit, bark and grasses), molars develop patterns and grooves on the enamel loops. By examining size and general appearance, molars can help pinpoint an elephant’s age.
Old elephants tend to chew softer food, as her teeth become more sensitive with time. When these final teeth fall from her mouth in her old age, she will lose the ability to chew food and will eventually starve to death. The bodies of older, deceased elephants are sometimes found in marsh environments, where plant matter is soft and easy to chew.
If you want to discover more information about elephants, visit the National Geographic elephant fact page.
Have you ever wanted to hose down an elephant? Come with me behind-the-scenes at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park to give the Asian elephants a shower!
On Nat Geo Wild: Caught in the Act: Elephant Battleground airs Tuesday June 8 at 9P et/pt
Photos credit: Jodi Kendall