African Elephant with tusks and big ears
African Elephant

Why Do Elephants Flap Their Ears?

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  • Post category:Elephants
  • Post last modified:4 January 2022
  • Reading time:7 mins read

Elephants use their ears to stay cool. When they are hotter than their surroundings, they flap their ears to circulate the cooler blood around them. They also create a gusting wind like a fan that helps them stay cool.

The skin of the elephants’ ears is extremely thin, and the blood vessels of the ears are close to the surface to disperse heat quickly and pump the cooler blood around the body. Elephants don’t sweat, so these big ears are critical to their health.

Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears?

The African elephants are known for their enormous ears. As we have already mentioned before, elephants flap ears frequently to regulate blood flow in the blood vessels situated in the ear flaps.

The giant ears of the elephants help them to regulate their body temperature. It also helps them to cool themselves down, just like a fan. 

The hotter their body temperature becomes, the more the elephant tends to flap its ears.

How an elephant cools down.

Compared to the elephants living in the cooler climates, the elephants living in the African region tend to have more giant ears. 

The elephants living in the cooler climate, such as the Asian elephants, do not need to control their body temperature as much as those living in the hotter climates. This is why the ear size of Asian elephants is significantly smaller than the African ones.

The Importance of Large Ears

As you may already know, elephants are huge animals that weigh between 5000 to 13000 pounds. That means it takes a lot of effort on the elephants to reduce their body temperature. 

That is where the big ears of the elephants come into play. The ears play a significant role in cooling the body temperature of these animals down. 

The elephants’ ears are so efficient that they are often compared to air conditioners.

Ear Blood Vessels

Elephants have large blood vessels in their ears, which are visible from the back of their ears. Through the blood circulation of these vessels, the elephants tend to cool down their blood temperature. The cooled-down blood then gets circulated to the rest of their body, which, in turn, reduces the whole body’s temperature.


Elephants use their enormous ears as fans. You may have seen elephants flapping their ears quite often. When they do this, they are using their ears as fans. Flapping the ears helps the elephants to improve their blood circulation, which in turn allows these gentle giants to reduce the temperature of their entire bodies. 

Another reason why the elephants tend to flap their ears is to swat away insects and flies, much like the tail does. 

Elephants Do Not Sweat

Unlike humans, elephants do not have as many sweat glands in their bodies. These gentle Giants only have a couple of sweat glands just above their toenails. 

That is why they have developed several behaviours that help them control their enormous body’s temperature. 

The large ears of the animals are a type of adaptation that helps them regulate their body temperature. As the elephants live in tropical climates, flapping for cooling down can protect them against severe dehydration. So, developing these physical abilities can be seen as an evolutionary benefit.

Different Ear Size: African and Asian

Even though we often associate enormous ears with elephants, not all elephants have the same size ears. The African elephants have more prominent ears than the Asian elephants.

Recommended Read: Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears? (Interesting Ear Facts)

One of the easiest ways to differentiate the African elephants from the Asian ones is that the African elephant ears look like the content of Africa and the Asian elephant’s ears look like the shape of India.

Elephant Ear Sizes

  • African Elephants: six feet by five feet wide. 
  • Asian Elephants: three feet by two feet wide. 

Ear Communication

Apart from using their ears to cool themselves down, the elephants also use them as a mode of communication. 

The wild elephants will move their ears in a specific direction to warn other family members of potential threats. Elephants are extremely caring to the other herd members, and protection is top of their list. 

During the mating season, the elephant’s flair their ears to show excitement and impress their attention to the females. 

Elephants also hold their ears in a particular position to indicate that they hear a specific sound outside. 

The elephants living in human care also showcase this behaviour. That is what helps their keepers to understand their mood and behaviour.


Apart from acting as an air conditioner, the elephants’ ears also contribute to their excellent hearing abilities. Thanks to the larger size of the ear, elephants can listen to various sounds easily.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. Teresa has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.