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What Do Elephants Eat? All 3 Species: Food, Water, Milk

Elephants can weigh +13,000 lb, the earth’s largest land animal. What do elephants eat that helps them grow so large? Learn about the diet of all three species, plus the volume of food and water they consume daily.

Elephants are herbivores, so they spend their days looking for grass, roots, fruits, and other plant-based foods. There are three main species of elephants (African bush, African forest, and Asian), and the ratio of different plants changes based on what’s available in each environment.

what do elephants eat

Plants. That’s it. The secret to maintaining a strong, twenty-thousand body is by downing a lot, a lot of plant matter.

Keep reading to learn more about each species of elephant, what their favorite foods are, and how much they have to eat to maintain their bodies that weigh multiple tons.

How Much Do Elephants Eat?

Elephants eat about 440 pounds (200 kg) of food every day, according to the Royal Society.

This means that on average, an elephant consumes 6.3 ounces (180 grams) of food every minute. This equals 2 corn cobs per minute.

At any given time, an adult elephant could have more than 900 lb (400 kg) in its digestive tract.

In separate studies, 10 adult elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa averaged 915 lb (415 kg) and three adult elephants in Kenya had 1074 lb (487 kg) in their digestive tract.

How Much Do Elephants Drink?

An adult elephant will drink about 225 liters (59.4 US gallons) of water every day. And this will sometimes occur on one visit to a watering hole.

Do elephants drink through their trunk? No. According to SPANA, elephants suck up a trunk full of water, then empty it into their mouth to drink it.

How much water does an elephant trunk hold? An elephant’s trunk will hold between 4 and 8 liters.

That means that an adult elephant might need to fill its trunk between 28 and 56 times every day.

how much water do elephants drink

How Much Time Does an Elephant Spend Feeding?

An elephant can spend up to 18 hours per day feeding.

How Much Do Baby Elephants Drink?

Baby elephants drink up to 3 gallons of milk every day. And they drink their mother’s milk for about two years, some even longer.

After 4 months of age, baby elephants will begin to eat plants like their mothers. But they continue to drink their mother’s milk.

how much do baby elephants eat

African Bush Elephant

This is the kind of elephant you were probably thinking of when you googled elephant.

African bush elephants (also called “savanna elephants”) live in the African savanna. They’re the largest species of elephant, and they’re also the biggest land animal on earth.

And, to add to their appeal even more, they have large ears that stick out from the side of their head, giving them the big flappy ears that are so iconic.

What do African elephants eat to grow this big? They love to eat grass, tree leaves and bark (usually of the acacia tree), fruit, and any foliage they can find.

When options are limited, up to 60% of their diet is grass. After all, they have to consume hundreds of pounds of food. If grass is their only option, they’ll take it.

Surprisingly enough, one of the favorite foods (aside from sweet fruits) is tree bark.

Bark provides them with calcium for their huge bones, and it also has roughage, which is a mineral that makes it possible to digest over 300 lbs of tough food every day. Plants don’t always break down easily, so elephants need all the digestive help they can get.

They weigh between three and seven tons (6,000-14,000 lbs). At birth, baby elephants already weigh about one metric ton, and adult females are three tons while males grow to be at least seven.

They can get much bigger than that–the largest African bush elephant on record was twelve tons (24,000 lbs).

Newborn elephants are about three feet tall, and they quickly grow much taller. Adults are around twenty feet in length, and over ten feet tall. Some are thirteen feet tall.

African Forest Elephant

Forest elephants live in west-central Africa in densely wooded areas, so their diet is slightly different than their savanna counterparts.

They still eat a lot of plants, grass, and foliage, but their diet consists of a higher percentage of fruit, and less bark and grass. They eat at least seventy-two different varieties of fruits, including (but not limited to) bananas, dates, figs, mangos, and citrus.

Because of their love of fruit, they are a key role in spreading seeds of trees across the rainforest.

They’re so important to tree dispersion that they’ve earned a nickname over the years: “Mega-Gardener of the Forest.”

They eat so many fruits and spread so many seeds that the rainforest’s ecosystem is majorly affected every time these elephants have a population drop.

African Bush Elephants
Large male African elephant having a drink of water

African forest elephants look a lot like African bush elephants, but these guys are a lot smaller. They don’t weigh eleven tons, instead, they weigh around two to five tons (4,000-10,000 lbs).

An easy way to tell forest and savanna elephants apart is by looking at their tusks.

  • Savanna elephants have huge, curved tusks that point outwards, like built-in weapons.
  • Forest elephant’s tusks are much smaller, and they don’t curve out. Instead, they curve inward, pointing at each other.

Forest elephants reach a shoulder height of seven feet, which is nearly half the height of savanna elephants. But the average human makes up only 2% of their body weight, so they still need a lot of food to survive.

More reading: How Long Do Elephants Live?

are elephants herbivores
An elephant happily receiving a banana

Asian Elephant Diet

The Asian elephant is the third species of elephant, but in reality, this species can be divided into four subcategories based on location.

There are four main Asian elephants: Indian, Borneo Pygmy, Sri Lankan, and Sumatran elephant.

They all weigh around three to six tons (6,000-12,000 lbs); which is slightly smaller than the African species.

And, much like the African forest elephants, Asian elephants play a vital role in spreading seeds of all kinds of plant life across the environment, efficiently boosting the ecosystem wherever they go.

They can also cause mild damage to the ecosystem. Some elephants will tear down the trees they’re eating from, or they might have to tear down trees to clear a path to walk.

Indian Elephant

Indian elephants have two huge, protruding bumps on their heads, giving them extremely pronounced foreheads. They can be light, or extremely dark gray. They’re in the middle when it comes to weight, as their males weigh up to four tons.

Indian elephants eat mainly grass, tree bark, roots, bananas, rice, and sugarcane.

Borneo Pygmy Elephant

These guys also have two bumps on their heads, but they’re not protruding, and they’re smaller. They almost form a “V” shape above the elephant’s head. These elephants are on the smaller side, and their biggest ones weigh two tons.

Borneo pygmy elephants’ diet consists of grass, leaves, palms, and any fruit they can find.

Sri Lankan Elephant

Sri Lankan elephants have two big bumps on their head that protrude like Indian elephants, but these elephants are much darker than all other varieties. They’re dark gray, and in some cases, almost black or a deep brown. They weigh around six tons.

Sri Lankan elephant diets consist of grass, leaves, bark, fruits, nuts, seeds, and shoots.

Sumatran Elephant

These elephants also sport two bumps, but they’re not as distinguished as the Borneo pygmy elephant. They have fuzzy heads, and they’re on the larger side (up to five tons).

Their diet is almost the exact same as other Asian elephants–leaves, seeds, nuts, fruits, and any other vegetation they can find. They have to eat over 300 lbs of food a day, so they can’t afford to be picky.

Keep reading: How Fast Can an Elephant Run?

what elephants eat

Learn about the smallest (non-flying) mammal in the world, the etruscan shrew.

Interested in more animal diet posts? Check out our guide What Rhinos Eat

Your Turn

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