Wrinkles. Smile lines. Accordion lines. Frown lines. Whatever you call 'em, elephants have got them in spades. The biggest mammal on earth is an incredibly wrinkly animal -- some regional folklore tell us that their signature wrinkles are why they are considered so wise. But it's a feature that those wrinkles so often hide that got a research team from the University of Geneva in Switzerland wondering: Why do elephants have so many wrinkles and so many tiny cracks amongst them?
The answer was revealed this week when the University of Geneva team published an extensive report in The Nature Communications journal.
Here's the skinny: African elephants don't have sweat glands, so, evolutionarily, they had to figure out another way to cool down in their often unbearably hot climate. The solution? A network of folds and cracks all over their skin, which they develop throughout their lives.
In a press release issued by The University of Geneva:
"An intricate network of minuscule crevices adorns the skin surface of the African bush elephant. By retaining water and mud, these micrometer-wide channels greatly help elephants in regulating their body temperature and protecting their skin against parasites and intense solar radiation... African elephant-skin channels are true fractures of the animal brittle and desquamation-deficient skin outermost layer. The scientists show that the elephant hyperkeratinised skin grows on a lattice of millimetric elevations, causing its fracture due to local bending mechanical stress."
In other words, the wrinkles and skin folds enable small cracks in the skin, which help elephants regulate their temperature. Pretty cool, huh?
In case you were wondering (because I definitely was) hyperkeratinisation is a skin mutation where skin doesn't shed the way its supposed to. It's a mutation some humans have too (about 1 in 250 suffer from it).
This again proves what we so vehemently believe: The more we research elephants, the more we learn about them and the more we learn about them, the more we learn about ourselves.