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Why Don’t Elephants Have Balls? Really? Here’s Why!

Why Don’t Elephants Have Balls? Really? Here’s Why!

The largest land animals on the planet are the Elephants, but they do not have the largest balls. At first glance, male elephants don’t appear to have any testicles at all, although they do clearly have a sheath.

Actually, elephants do have testicles. They are located inside of the abdomen, up near the spine.

Balls, another name for external testicles, are a rarity in the animal kingdom.


Why Don’t Elephants Have Balls?

Elephants do have testicles but are inside the body near the kidneys. For most mammals, external testicles are the norm. They keep sperm from overheating. For reasons still unknown, mammals like elephants are able to retain their testicles in their abdomens without harm to sperm.


Facts About Elephant Testicles

You can tell an Asian elephant from an African by their ears, but not by their testicles. They are basically identical in both species.

They are located a little below the kidneys high up near the spine. They weigh about five pounds each.

That’s ten pounds of testicles inside each male elephant’s abdomen. However, they are not the largest testicles in relation to body size.

That honor goes to the tuberous bush cricket, whose internal testes make up fourteen percent of its body. Elephant testicles are tiny in comparison to their body size.

You may not see their balls, but bull elephants are incredibly virile. Each time a male elephant ejaculates, he releases over 200 billion sperm.

In contrast, a stallion produces only seven to eight billion sperm and a human a mere 250 million on average to about 500 million at the most.

Elephants are thought to produce so much sperm because elephant sperm has one of the longest journeys in the animal kingdom to reach a female elephant’s egg.

Female elephants are also promiscuous, so more sperm means a better chance of winning the competition with another bull elephant’s sperm in order to reach that all-important egg.


Mammals Without Balls: An Evolutionary Puzzle

Most animals have internal testicles, including fish, insects, reptiles, worms, and just about any creature that lives in water. Even dinosaurs are thought to have had internal testicles.

The problem with studying gonads of long-extinct animals is that there are no bones in testicles or ovaries, so they cannot fossilize. No evidence of testicles has been found on the five dinosaur mummies so far discovered.

Most mammals have testicondy, or external testicles, but those that don’t include some bats, sea mammals like seals and whales, tenrecs, cape golden moles, elephant shrews, rock hyraxes, and large animals like elephants and hippos.

The earliest mammals are thought to descend from animals that had internal testicles.

Genes for making testicles descend were found by removing them in mice. 

A German study showed that two genes for the development of testicondy, including a gene for making a ligament necessary for testicles to descend, were not present in elephant DNA.

These genes, RXFP2 and INSL3, were present but turned off in four species related to elephants: the manatee, the cape golden mole, the tenrec, and the cape elephant shrew.

By looking at those two genes and other mutations, the researchers estimate that cape golden moles branched off from species that make external testicles 23 – 25 million years ago.

Cape elephant shrews split off about 83 million years ago. Since they lack these two non-functioning genes, elephants are thought to have split off from other mammals longer than 83 million years ago, but less than 100 million years ago.


Why, Afrotherians, Why

Elephants belong to a group of animals that mostly live in Africa called Afrotherians, which also include:

  • Cape elephant shrew
  • Rock hyrax
  • Cape golden mole
  • Tenrec
  • Manatees

The family branched off from other mammals about 100 million years ago. Back then, mammals had external testicles. This kept sperm cool enough to stay healthy.

In most mammals, sperm needs to be cooler than the body in order to stay healthy and mobile. Afrotherians do not have cooler body temperatures than other mammals.

Just how they are able to keep their sperm healthy while inside a hot-blooded body is a mystery.

It is known why manatees need internal testicles. They live in a very cold environment.

Elephants are thought to descend from sea-dwelling animals since genetically they share a lot in common with manatees.

It could be that their internal testicles are gifts from their ancestors that just keep on giving.


Chicken and Egg

Another theory is that present-day sperm only needs to stay cool in order to be healthy, which happened after testicles began dropping.

Like the question, which came first, the need to drop testicles or the need to keep testicles cool? These sprout more theories than decaying wood can sprout mushrooms.

One theory is that testicles dropped in order to better attract females. Low-hanging balls may have let females know that males were healthy and virile.

Since females in the animal world evolved peculiar tastes in selecting males, this theory does hold water. Just look at the useless but incredibly elaborate tail of a peacock as an example of how female tastes drive male bodily evolution.

Another theory is that species that evolved internal testicles found that external testicles just got in the way. This is seen in more modern animals, like thoroughbred racehorses.

The thoroughbred breed only began in the 1700s. Bred to be the fastest horses in the world, they have developed health problems. 

Some colts’ testicles interfered with their strides. Once gelded, they run smoothly.

Despite the prevalence of gelding, the problem persists, indicating that large testicles are common in thoroughbred genes.


Frequently Asked Questions About Why Elephants Don’t Have Balls


What Animal Has the Largest Testicles?

The animal with the largest pair of testicles is the North Atlantic right whale. Its testicles weigh just over 1984 pounds (900 kilograms). That’s over 1,000 pounds each. These testicles are located inside of the abdomen.


What Animals Don’t Have Balls?

Most animals keep their sex cells in an organ called a gonad. Animals that reproduce without any kind of gonad (testes or ovaries) include sponges and some species of annelid worms. Some animals, like earthworms, are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both ovaries and testicles.


What Do Elephants and Elephant Shrews Have in Common?

They look very different, but elephants and cape elephant shrews have two physical things in common. They both have long noses. They also both lack external testicles.


The Least You Need to Know

Elephants do not have a scrotum. Elephants do have testicles inside of their bodies.

They’re a small part of the mammals with this trait. Just why elephants evolved the ability to retain their testicles and still produce healthy sperm is unknown.