Elephant behaviors Questions & Answers (FAQs)

Why Do Elephants Throw Dirt On Themselves?

When you see an elephant, you might wonder what it’s thinking. They’re among the largest land animals on Earth, but they also have some of the strangest behavior.

An elephant can lift a tree with its trunk, or run around, knock things over, and throw dirt. But is there a good explanation for why elephants like throwing dirt on themselves, and for all these other strange activities?

In fact, almost everything an elephant does is related to staying healthy and protecting themselves against the elements.

An elephant is one of the most fascinating animals in the world. They are known for their size and their intelligence, and social behaviors.

What exactly is the reason why elephants throw dirt on themselves, why the dust bathing? There must be some sort of logic behind it all. Let’s take a closer look.

How Do Elephants Behave?

There are a number of reasons why elephants, especially wild elephants might throw dirt on themselves. One reason is to protect themselves from insects.

The dirt acts as a barrier between the elephant’s skin and the insects. This is especially important in areas where there are a lot of biting insects, such as mosquitoes.

Another reason for this behavior is sun protection. Elephants, like humans, can suffer from sunburn and skin damage if they aren’t careful. You may have noticed that elephants prefer to do this when the sun is at its highest.

It is also believed that elephants use mud baths as a way to cool down. When it’s hot, the mud can act as a sort of natural sunscreen and heat protector, and when it’s cold, the mud bath can keep the elephant’s skin warm.

This is why you may see elephants throwing mud on themselves in both hot and cold weather.

Why Do Elephants Throw Dirt On Themselves?

The most common reason why elephants have dust baths is to protect themselves from insects like mosquitoes and bugs.

They use their trunks to pick up dirt, grass, and other materials from the ground and throw them on themselves, creating a barrier between themselves and the insects.

This behavior is often seen during the breeding season when many species of insects are attracted to the smell of the male elephant skin.

Another reason for this behavior is sun protection. Elephants, like humans, can suffer from sunburn if they aren’t careful with how long they’re in the direct light of UV-rays.

Understanding Elephant Behaviors

There are a few behaviors that are very common with elephants but seem a bit strange to us. Let’s break them down.


This is a very common gesture among elephants. They greet each other with the tips of their trunks touching. Sometimes, they even put them in each other’s mouths.

It’s like they smell each other’s breath, and possibly communicates something like “I am not going to hurt you.”

Straw Sucking

This is another common behavior, especially among baby elephants. When they first open their eyes, they can’t see very well. They use their trunks to find straws, leaves, and other small objects to suck on in order to build their strength.

A lot of elephants like to suck on straws. It’s a way for them to play with their food, and possibly get some extra nutrients from the plants they eat.

Walking Backward

Walking backward. When an elephant is walking backward, it is a sign that the animal is feeling uncomfortable or threatened.

If an elephant feels threatened or if there is a human nearby, the animal will often walk backward away from the source of the problem or towards a safer place.


You may see an elephant sitting in a puddle of mud or a stream of water with its head facing upwards as steam rises from their heads.

This is a common behavior among elephants and is called “steaming” because it is believed that they do this to regulate their body temperature. It is also believed that they do this to remove toxins from their bodies.

Just like a mud- or steam bath that us humans would pay for at the spa!

Spray Their Tails With Dust

This is a behavior that is often displayed by male elephants. They do this in order to attract female elephants, and it is sometimes done in front of other elephants.

Male elephants use their tails to create a cloud of dust. Then, they use the dust to coat their tails. The females are attracted to the dust and will touch the male’s tail with their trunks. This indicates that they are willing to mate.

Shaking Their Trunks

The trunk is an elephant’s most important asset. It is used for many things, including grabbing food, drinking water, breathing, smelling, and communicating.

When an elephant is upset or mad, it will shake its trunk vigorously. This is a sign of aggression and is often directed toward humans. An elephant that is mad or upset will often shake its trunk as a sign of aggression.

(Photo by Kvnga on Unsplash)

How Do Elephants Take Care Of Them Selves?

Elephants are very big animals, and they need to eat a lot of food to maintain their weight. They also need to drink a lot of water. An adult elephant can drink up to 50 gallons (200-225 liters) of water a day!

To avoid getting sunburned, elephants will often throw dirt or mud on their backs. This helps to protect their skin from harmful UV rays.

Another way that elephants take care of themselves is by using their trunks to spray water on their bodies. This helps to keep them cool in the hot weather.

Final Thoughts

Elephants are very interesting creatures. They are large, intelligent mammals that have survived for millions of years. They have a lot in common with humans, including the fact that they are social animals that like to live and work together with others.

All in all, elephants are fascinating animals, and they deserve our respect and admiration.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dirt throwing Elephants

Why do Elephants throw dirt on themselves?

The main reason Elephants throw dirt on themselves is to protect them against bugs and mosquitos. But, it also helps them to protect their skin against the sun, and to regulate their body temperature.

Why do Elephants take dust baths?

Elephants take dust baths, or throw dirt on themselves to protect themselves against bugs or to control their body temperature.

Why do baby elephants suck on straws and trees with their trunk?

They do this from birth to practise movement of the trunk and to gain their strength to carry heaver objects with their trunk.

By Ethan Smith

Ethan aka "The Elephant Man" is a huge fan of elephants. He lives in the US with his wife and three kids. Together they travel to Africa every year to go on safari and see the big 5.

Ethan worked many years covering the news about the endangered animal species of Africa and is even mentioned in the now world renowned documentary "Planet Earth".

Ethan is passionate about conservation and loves educating others about these amazing animals.

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