Temporal range: Pliocene–Holocene
|A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in the wild at Bandipur National Park in India|
The Elephantidae are a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct. Only two genera, Loxodonta (African elephants) and Elephas (Asiatic elephants), are living.
The family was first described by John Edward Gray in 1821, and later assigned to taxonomic ranks within the order Proboscidea. Elephantidae have also been revised by various authors to include or exclude other extinct proboscidean genera.
The family diverged from a common ancestor of the Mammutidae, which includes species termed as mastodons. The author of Mammutidae also published Gomphotheriidae, more closely related to Elephantidae, which also includes species previously described as Mastodon. The classification of proboscideans is unstable and frequently revised, some relationships within the order remain unclear, and it is incompletely summarised as:
- Elephantimorpha (Proboscidea)
The genera †Anancus, †Tetralophodon, †Stegomastodon, †Paratetralophodon and †Cuvieronius are placed by some authors within the Elephantidae, while others give a treatment as Gomphotheriidae. Similarly, Stegodon and Stegolophodon have sometimes been placed in Stegodontidae. The systematics of the living subspecies and species, the modern elephants, has undergone several revisions. A list of extant Elephantidae, excluding the extinct species of the two genera, includes:
Scientific classification of Elephantidae taxa embraces an extensive record of fossil specimens, over millions of years, some of which existed until the end of the last ice age. Some species were extirpated more recently. The discovery of new specimens and proposed cladistics have resulted in systematic revisions of the family and related proboscideans.
Elephantidae are classified informally as the elephant family, or in a paleobiological context as elephants and mammoths. The common name elephant primarily refers to the living taxa, the modern elephants, but may also refer to a variety of extinct species, in this family and others (see Elephant (disambiguation)). Other members of Elaphantidae, especially members of Mammuthus, are referred to by the common name mammoth.
Although the fossil evidence is uncertain, by comparing genes, scientists discovered evidence that Elephantidae and other proboscideans share a distant ancestry with Sirenia (sea cows) and Hyracoidea (hyraxes). These have been assigned with the demostylians to the clade Paenungulata. In the distant past, members of the hyrax family grew to large sizes, and the common ancestor of all three modern families likely was some kind of amphibious hyracoid. One hypothesis is these animals spent most of their time under water, using their trunks like snorkels for breathing. Modern elephants have this ability and are known to swim in that manner for up to six hours and 50 km (31 mi).
- Classification of the Elephantidae Paleobiology Database Accessed: August 2009
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