Science Questions

Where is an elephant’s bone marrow?

Sun, 4th Oct 2009

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Eluan asked:

Where is an elephant’s bone marrow? Can you please give me some more details on elephant bones? Where does its red cells get formed in the first place?


Chris -  This is a really interesting question for the simple reason, when I was in Africa, I found an elephant’s leg bone and they're like a solid piece of rock.  An elephant is so heavy that it needs to have almost solid bone with no marrow cavity in the middle because the bones otherwise would not be strong enough to support the elephant’s weight.  So an elephant shunts all of its blood formation up into its pelvis which is also an important place in humans too, but it means its legs are largely solid bone with virtually no marrow in them.  Unlike a human, where most of our blood is made in our long bones, our femurs.


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Eluan asked the Naked Scientists: Can you please give me some more detail on elephant bones... Where does the red blood cell formation take place? Is there marrow inside the bones? Where do they receive their marrow for their bones if they are solid? What do you think? Eluan, Wed, 9th Sep 2009 RD, Wed, 9th Sep 2009

I think RD is trying to say that elephants bones are much the same as ours, just a tad bigger. Don_1, Thu, 10th Sep 2009

Just a Tad!!! LOL..LOL.. Karen W., Thu, 10th Sep 2009

Don_1, Thu, 10th Sep 2009

Human long bones, such as the femur, humerus, ribs, sternum and so on, comprise a tough, dense outer "cortical" (also known as compact) bone, which is wrapped around an inner more open cancellous, trabecular or "spongy" bone that houses the bone marrow.

This cancellous marrow cavity contains thin bony plates that have little structural strength but provide a large surface area upon which grow haematopoietic stem cells, the elements that divide continuously to produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

But elephants are so heavy that this anatomical arrangement would be impossible in their long bones because they would just not be sufficiently strong to support the animal.

Instead elephant leg bones are made up almost entirely of cortical, compact bone and their chief site of haematopoiesis is in the pelvis.

I found an elephant leg bone when I was wandering around in Zimbabwe a while back. It was like a piece of solid rock!

Chris chris, Mon, 28th Sep 2009

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