What's inside an elephant?

Sometimes, I get so jealous of British television. Apparently, there's a whole series over there called Inside Nature's Giants. It's basically a zoology dissection show, where scientists break down large, exotic animals in ways that help teach viewers about evolution, biology, and the science of animal locomotion.

John Hutchinson is an American zoologist who works as a professor of evolutionary biomechanics in the UK. He's one of the scientists who works behind the scenes on Inside Nature's Giants. He also blogs at What's in John's Freezer?. It's a great title and it gets right to the point: Hutchinson has a job that is centered around the frozen carcasses of all manner of strange (and usually rather large) creatures. His research is all about the evolution and mechanics of motion. He studies living animals, both through dissection and 3D modeling, and he tries to use that data to better understand how extinct animals—including dinosaurs—might have moved around.

It's fascinating stuff. And the photos are nigh-on mind blowing. Right now, at John Hutchinson's blog, you can see a collection of shots from dissections and CT scans done for Inside Nature's Giants—including the dissection of an elephant.

Because I know that some of you are delicate and it is almost lunchtime, I've opted to not post my favorite photo from that dissection on the main page. But you should check it out below the cut.

This photo is astounding. Partly, because it's biology at a scale that I'd not really thought much about before. I know elephants are huge. But until I looked at this image, it had not occurred to me just how equally huge their intestines would have to be.

Second, is it just me, or do these elephant intestines look, weirdly, like some kind of deconstructed modernist couch?

See the rest of the photos, as well as some CT scans of tigers and crocodiles, at the What's in John's Freezer? blog.

Learn more about John Hutchinson's research. If you scroll down on this page, you'll find links to websites about some of his past projects. Topics include: "Tyrannosaurus was not a fast runner" and "Do elephants have six toes?"

Via Brian Switek


    1.  You forgot the big breathe in “and I thought they smelled bad…..*huff*….on the outside!”

  1. “Below the cut”, scumbag Google reader doesn’t have cuts, wasn’t expecting it!
    That reminds me of an episode where they dissected a giraffe, and Richard Dawkins explained how the Recurrant Laryngeal nerve, connecting the brain to the larynx, made a completely unnecessary detour down to the chest. Here’s the segment:

  2. Inside Nature’s Giants has been airing this year on PBS. You can check your local listings and watch complete episodes online at PBS’s website: http://www.pbs.org/programs/inside-natures-giants/

    [Note: I edited an earlier comment and it disappeared. So I’m re-commenting. Sorry if this means you see redundant comments from me]

  3. Yes, Inside Natures Giants as a fascinating programme, and they’re available to watch on Channel 4’s website – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/inside-natures-giants/4od

    It’s probably region-locked but I’m sure the readers of this site are savvy enough to trick the internet into thinking they’re in a different country. My own preferred tool is TunnelBear.

  4. To CJboCo,

    I see your Han Solo and will raise you a Bugs.

    ” I knew i shouda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.
    Mine is a bit more Warhol and oblique.

    And elephants are small…….compared to WHALES.

    git it done.

  5. I worked at a veterinarian place that said they were in charge of disposing of any large zoo animals that might die. They told stories of an elephant that had to kept outside because there was no storage big enough and it being cut into pieces and burned. I’m glad an elephant didn’t die while I worked there but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed too.

    1.  I worked at a zoo, and one of our elephants was (accidently) overdosed on tranqs, killing it. Of course, when it died, it fell down in front of the only door large enough to take it out, so we used chainsaws to cut it into pieces and took it out piece by piece. It was totally cool, in a really nasty way! The heart was amazing!!

  6. Inside Nature’s Giants is a pretty decent show, although they’re starting to run out of huge animals to dissect; last week they had a show about insects (with the tenuous link being they live near very very big trees).

    1. Hmm, alternatives? Those giant japanese jellyfish, perhaps? A coral reef? A termite nest? Have they done a squid yet?

  7.  There’s also a few episodes unofficially posted elseweb. Watching racehorses as we speak

  8. What’s inside an elephant? People wearing orange jumpsuits, it seems. Was it a pantomime elephant?


    1. Obvious troll is obvious, but I’m going in anyway: if you’re pregnant, why are you eating chips and salsa?  Your baby deserves better!

      Also, I’d like to answer the post title question with ‘more elephant’.

  10. Maybe you should counter attack and post a gif of you barfing your chips and salsa..
    Friendly advice.this is what happens when you decide to go tl:dr.
    you skim important parts like :

    “Because I know that some of you are delicate and it is almost lunchtime, I’ve opted to not post my favorite photo from that dissection on the main page. But you should check it out below the cut.”

    See ? lunchtime. he was thinking about you.

  11. Aw, that looks like a big cozy couch – what are those…OH MY GOD!!!!

    Not as gruesome as I was expecting, actually.

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