Elephants Have a Sixth ‘Toe’

Elephants walk on the world’s biggest platform shoes. Three hundred years ago, a surgeon claimed elephants had six toes instead of the usual five, setting off a debate about whether an extra digit was really possible. Modern anatomists scoffed at the idea, insisting instead that the extra toe was really just a big lump of cartilage.

Now, scientists have found that elephants footwear also contains hidden stiletto heels.

Even though an elephant’s leg looks like a solid column, it actually stands on tip-toe like a horse or a dog. Its heel rests on a large pad of fat that gives it a flat-footed appearance. The pad hides a sixth toe — a backward-pointing strut that evolved from one of their sesamoids, a set of small tendon-anchoring bones in the animal’s ankle.

This extra digit, between 5 and 10 centimetres long, had been dismissed as an irrelevant piece of cartilage. Learn more here or here.

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