It was always thought that elephants had only 5 toes, but London’s Royal Veterinary College has recently corrected this oversight. According to a study published in the journal of Science, elephants have a sixth toe that is critical in helping the enormous mammals move about with their gargantuan weight.
If Scottish physician Patrick Blair were here today, he would say “I told you so.” When he made the first detailed study of an elephant cadaver over 300 years ago, he wrote in his notes that it had six toes. The studies that came next ‘corrected’ his observations, citing that the ‘sixth toe’ was actually a prepollex, or a cartilaginous rod, not a bone. Now we know for sure.
That prepollex is, in fact, an elongated bone just like the ones used to secure tendons in other mammals. These ‘predigits’ are almost as large as their actual toes. It’s the strange development of the structure that confused everyone. These sixth digits begin developing as cartilaginous rods, but they eventually transform into bone later in adult-hood. It is similar to the giant panda, which has an extra thumb to help it grab bamboo, for instance. In elephants this digit is crucial in helping the large mammals balance their weight.