The African elephant’s wrinkly skin is in fact the result of a network of labyrinthine cracks and crevasses that retain water to help keep the animal cool, research has revealed.
The cracked structure allows the elephant to retain between five and ten times as much water as a smoother skin type, scientists from the University of Geneva explained in a press releaseexternal link on Tuesday.
The slow evaporation of this stored liquid allows the animal – which is unable to sweat due to the absence of appropriate glands – to keep cool over long periods, they say.
Rather than the wisdom-bearing wrinkles of popular imagination, the pattern of channels across the elephant’s skin is in fact fractures in the outermost layer of skin, forming a structure “similar to Alpine valleys, with peaks like minuscule mountains”, according to the university.
The cracks are not evident on baby pachyderms but grow over time due to the stress of movement.
In contrast, the Asian elephant, despite a somewhat wrinkly dermatological appearance itself, does not enjoy the same level of liquid-preserving crevices, mainly because the climate in its home regions is cooler and more humid.
The study, carried out in a South African reservation, was a collaboration between the University of Geneva and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformaticsexternal link. The results have been published in the journal Nature Communications.