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Though their great size and hind molar placement has led many to suspect that elephants are ruminants, they cannot in fact be classified
as such because they do not ferment their food in their oral cavities. It would seem that elephants would benefit from the ability to ferment
and consume just about any specimen of foliage they came across to sustain their large bodies based on what Demment explains in his
article (See Ruminants and Nonruminants Pages). Clauss et. al enlightens us as to why this is not the case. In his article "The Maximum
Attainable Body Size of Herbivorous Mammals: Morphophysiological Constraints on Foregut, and Adaptations of Hindgut Fermenters" Clauss
explains that ruminants require so much time to complete their digestive cycle that it necessitates a sedentary lifestyle such as cows or
hippopotamuses have. He explains that elephants, on the other hand, roam about their environment instead of staying in one place (Clauss 2003).
Since the elephants do not stay put, it is more advantageous for them simply to find choicer foliage in each place they travel to (Clauss 2003).
Clauss also reasons that there is simply no room left anatomically inside a creature as large as a hippopotamus to accommodate the necessary
internal organs if it were to grow larger in size. The elephant is a great example not just because it breaks the trend of larger mammalian
herbivores being ruminant, it demonstrates that a change in digestion is necessary to maintain a body that large.
Please email Brian McRae at Davidson College with any questions.
This website was created as a part of a class project in the Animal Physiology Class at Davidson College.