Innovators are full of questions.Nature has answers.


  • Strategy

Skin fine-tunes internal temperature: African elephant


Highly vascularized skin of the elephant / Antoine / LicenseCC-by - Attribution

The skin of elephants allows them to fine-tune thermal regulation via 'hot spots', patches of skin that are highly vascularized.

"With their thick hides and lack of sweat glands, it has long been thought that elephants rely upon their distinctive large ears and bathing in rivers to stay cool in hot climates.

"New research, however, has revealed that the world's largest land animals have a secret trick to control their own body temperatures

"By directing their blood supply near the surface of small patches of skin scattered around their bodies, elephants can lose heat rapidly, allowing them to fine-tune their internal temperature." (Gray 2010)
"In this study, we examined infrared thermograms in the course of time of six African zoo elephants and observed two phenomena. First, we noticed independent thermal windows, highly vascularised skin areas, on the whole elephants' body and second we observed distinct and sharply delimited hot sections on the elephants' pinnae. The frequency of thermal windows increased with increasing ambient temperature and body weight. We assume that the restriction of an enhanced cutaneous blood flow to thermal windows might enable the animal to react more flexibly to its needs with regard to heat loss. With this understanding, the use of thermal windows in heat loss might be seen as a fine-tuning mechanism under thermoneutral conditions." (Weissenböck et al. 2010:182)
About the inspiring organism
Med_afrikanischer_elefant_miami African Bush Elephant
Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797)
Common names: African elephant, African savannah elephant

Habitat(s): Artificial - Aquatic, Artificial - Terrestrial, Desert, Forest, Grassland, Savanna, Shrubland, Wetlands
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_VU IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Creating "vascularized hot spots" on buildings, computers, iPhones, clothing, sleeping bags, etc. to regulate temperature. Having small, localized places in strategic locations where heat can escape.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Building, textiles, technology

Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology
Nicole M.Weissenbock
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
Gray R. 2010. Elephants use 'hot spots' to stay cool. [Internet],
Learn More at Google Scholar Google Scholar  

Weissenböck NM; Weiss CM; Schwammer HM; Kratochvil H. 2010. Thermal windows on the body surface of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) studied by infrared thermography. Journal of Thermal Biology. 35(4): 182-188.
Learn More at Google Scholar Google Scholar  


Login to Post a Comment.
over 6 years ago
The beauty of this strategy is that it clearly shows that thermoregulation is not just about "big ears" but is a complex system of many interacting features.
1 to 1 of 1 Comments