Research Day: How Much Does An Adult, Male, African Elephant Weight?

It’s not often that I shout “holy shit!” while listening to NPR alone in my car, but that’s what I did a few weeks along when All Things Considered aired the story of Osama the Hippopotamus. “He’s believed to be a male,” the reporter said of the hippo who has been terrorizing villagers on the Congo River, “though no one has really gotten a good look at him. A full-grown male hippopotamus can weigh up to 8,000 pounds …”

What?! That can’t be right, thought I — he must have meant eight hundred pounds. What an embarrassing gaff to broadcast on national radio. Later he said that hippos are considered to be “the most lethal animal in Africa, killing more people each year than lions, crocodiles, and elephants.” That struck me as almost equally improbable. I thought hippos were cuddly. And only attacked marbles.

But I figured I’d doublecheck before sending an email to NPR starting “Dear dumbasses,” and did so as soon as I got home. “How was work?” The Queen asked as I walked in the door; “No time for chit-chat!” I exclaimed, “I gotta go look up hippos in Wikipedia!”

And whatta’ya know? “Hippos average 3.5 metres (11 ft) long, 1.5 metres (5 ft) tall at the shoulder, and weigh from 1,500 kg to 3,200 kg (3,300 to 7,000 lb)

I sat there at my computer for a moment, trying to process this information. Then it occurred to me that the elephant, world’s largest land animal, must somehow be even larger.

I braced myself and surfed over the the Wikipedia page for Loxodonta africana. “The Savanna Elephant stands on average 13 feet (4 meters) at the shoulder,” it said. “And weighs approximately 15,400 pounds (7,000 kilograms) .” Subsequent research revealed that Wikipedia’s estimate is on the high end of the spectrum — The Columbia Encyclopedia has them down for an average weight of seven tons (14,000 lbs.); Britannica pegs their maximum weight at 16,500 lb; Encarta says they “weigh up to 7,000 kg (15,400 lb).” My guess is the person who did the Wikipedia entry came across that “up to 7,000 kg” figure, mistaken cited 15,400 lb as their average weight, and that 14,000 lbs. is more accurate.

But still: 14,000 lbs! That’s just insane. And I don’t even understand the physics of it. If you hollowed out a male, African elephant, I can’t imagine you could fit seventy 200-pound human beings inside the skin, even if you ground those people into slurry and poured ’em in through a funnel (free Science Fair project idea right there, if any kid are reading this).

Now, I’m notoriously bad at estimating things: population of cities, miles of a road, number of beers it takes to get myself drunk, etc. But even so, I had a hunch that just about everyone would get this one wrong when asked. So last week I slapped together an poll to see what people say when asked the average weight of a male, African elephant. When I’d amassed a little over 2000 votes, I made some graphs, thereby transmogrifying this exceptionally haphazard experiment into SCIENCE!

And how did you all fare? Oh my goodness, not well at all I’m afraid.

Average guess: 4964.60 lbs. — i.e., close to a third of the actual weight. It probably would have been a lot lower, but there were a few 50,000 lbs. and one 65,000 guesses. The top five most common guesses: 2,000 lbs (1/7 of the actual weight), 4,000 lbs., 3,000 lbs, 5,000 lbs, and 2,500 lbs. Eighty-one people guessed 12,000 (it was the eighth most common guess), eleven guessed 14,000, and another eleven guessed 15,000.

I’d always heard that, on questions of estimation, you could expect to see a bell-shaped curve around the correct response. Obviously that wasn’t the case here. I’ve convinced that it’s because the weight of an elephant is so incredible — by which I mean, it honestly strains credibility. Two thousand pound is a good guess for weight of “animal that is extremely large and yet still real”; 14,000 pounds is a good guess for the weight of, like, “dragon,” or something equally as chimeric.

By the way, the largest elephant ever recorded weighed 12,000 kilograms, or nearly 26,500 lbs. I’m glad they didn’t mention that on NPR, or I probably would have driven off the freakin’ road.

Thanks to Squant and M-J for fancy graph assistance.

Fifteen Of My MetaFilter Comments, Taken Out Of Context

  • Once again Jesse Jackson heroically hurls himself between the givers and the receiver of publicity.
  • The website doesn’t specify the source of the findings, but I strongly suspect they have been drawn from the scientific discipline commonly known as “making shit up.”
  • Dear sir, I don’t wish to brag
    Of my wealth but I’ve hit a small snag.
    These fund I must move
    So would you approve
    Of a cut of Nigerian swag?
  • Check out, the comma usage, in the linked, page. It’s like listening, to someone who, just climbed some stairs, and is out, of breath.
  • The porn industry was one of the driving forces behind the invention of photography, as they were tired of having to describe blowjobs to patrons. True fact, look it up.
  • Some of you younger kids might not remember this, but there was a time in America when people acted stupid for free! It’s true, they just gave it away! People acted like utter dopeity dopes and never received a penny in compensation. But then someone figured out that acting stupid could net you a fortune, by, say, pretending like you were honestly and completely unaware that eating fattening foods would cause you to become fat, or claiming that you thought cigarette warnings only applied to other people. Now stupidism accounts for over 13% of America’s economy, and this clever exploitation of a previously free resource is exactly the kind of Horatio Alger-esque ingenuity that makes America great.
  • You may think that life without men would just be one giant party. But the first time all the women in the world went out to do karaoke and realized that “Islands in the Streams” was no longer an option, they would be very, very sad.
  • If this backfires, the scandal will be called “Conju-gate”.
  • I discovered the identity of my girlfriend’s next-to-last lover with AntePenUltiMate™!
  • The next time I get coffee in my office’s Break Room, I’m going to take one sip of it, spit it out, and loudly exclaim “Jesus Christ! This tastes like a tree-dwelling marsupial ate the ripest and reddest coffee cherries, and then somebody made coffee out of the beans, which were excreted fairly intact and still wrapped in layers of the cherries’ mucilage!”
  • If you believe in evolution you can justifiably call any US citizen an “African-American”
  • Of course Courtney Love is in favor of file sharing. The whole concept of taking someone else’s good songs for personal use was the essence of Hole.
  • I just like that the word “Extreme” is now associated with two things: (1) People engaging in athletic events which require a staggering amount of physical prowess; and (2) People sitting on their fat asses and imbibing a staggering amount of cola.
  • Moral of the story: DON’T FUCK WITH THE EBERT!
  • I am sickened by the sheer ignorance of the people on Mefi in general and in this thread in particular, and that is why I’m leaving for good. No, I’m totally serious this time. I just removed my bookmark. And when everyone belatedly realizes what an important member I was to this community and rallies to my defense and publicly chastises those (and you know who you are) who brought me to this point, I will unfortunately never ever know about it because, as I mentioned before, I am not coming back. Even if someone emails me privately ( to let me know that everyone wants me to return and that the site has basically gone to shit since my departure, it won’t matter because I’m done with you all. I mean it. I’m using UnInstall Wizard right now to remove my browser. Goodbye.

Twos, The Terrible

It’s been 24 months since The Squirrelly barreled into our lives, though The Twos — the Terrible ones, specifically — began months ago. The kid’s a flaming ball of id these days, a Lil’ Bacchus who enjoys nothing better than good food, a long nap, lively music, and an invigorating poop.

And he’s as garrulous as ever, yammering away at every available moment. You’d think the perpetual narration would provide us with some clue as to what was going on in that head of his, but, more often than not, but he still catches us off-guard with non sequiturs. “Do you want a snack?” You’ll ask him; “I’m a dog,” he’ll reply, “Ruff! Ruff!” Honestly, I have no idea how to respond to someone who says something like that (unless it’s the guy sitting next to me on the bus, in which case I respond by hastily moving to to another seat).

Occasionally he’ll seize upon a word or phrase that’s particularly fun to say and just holler it out at random moments. “Edamame!” and “avocado!” are favorites, as are “down the hatch!” and “all right, kiddo!” He also likes to recite the line from The Cat In The Hat that goes “So all we could do was to sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!” But he, like most toddlers, lisps a bit, so it sounds like he’s shouting “shit! shit! shit! shit!” like he’s frantically trying to flush contraband drugs down the toilet before the cops bust through the bathroom door.

He hasn’t adopted any real obscenities yet, something that can be attributed to luck rather than any effort on our part to moderate our language. Unfortunately, he has learned the worse four-letter word of all: “want.” Someone told us that a sure-fire way of reducing frustration tantrums in a toddler is to teach them to express their desires, so we foolishly went ahead and taught him the w-word. And it’s true: he has fewer frustration tantrums, no doubt. Now we instead get the tantrums of outrage, when we have the impertinence to question one of his edicts. “Want oatmeal,” he’ll say. “Dude, there’s oatmeal in the bowl right in front of you, eat that,” I’ll reply. “WANT OATMEAL!” he’ll shriek and throw himself to the floor, where he kicks and screams for approximately six seconds before deciding that it’s not worth the effort, climbing to his feet, and announcing “I’m a dog! Ruff! Ruff!”

So, yes, we’re having the standard toddler War Of The Wills, but, fortunately, The Squirrelly is exceptionally easy-going. His tantrums are infrequent, and rarely last more than a handful of seconds. When we took him in for his two-year checkup, the pediatrician asked “does he ever have tantrums that last longer than half an hour?” and we were all, like, “Half and hour?! Fuuuuck no — if he did we would have just left him in your elevator, sprinted back to the car, and driven to Ontario at 85 miles an hour.”

We also learned, at his 24 month exam, that his future career as an NBA center has been nipped in the bud, as he is now in the 50th percentile for height (instead of the 70th, where he was at a year). It’s just as well, as he clearly has his sights set on some sort of musical career. We bought him a toy piano for his birthday, and he loves plunking the keys and singing the the “ABC Song.” He really seems to enjoy music so we thought we’d encourage it — it was only after the fact that we realized that we’re probably setting ourselves up for 12 years of elementary, junior high, and high school band concerts. Dear lord, what have we wrought!

Oh well. If the next 16 years are anywhere near as fun as the last two it’ll all be worth it, even the “Cleaveland Middle School Spring Ensemble.” Plus, hearing loss runs in my family, so I might luck out.

Take Me For A Ride In The Car Car   GFEDCBA   Too Cute For Naptime