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A Tale of Two Elephants

Before classifying organisms, scientists must make many careful observations about them. Even differences that seem small may be significant when making classification groups. Look closely at the two organisms below.
  1. What organisms are shown?
  2. Do they look the same?
  3. Do the pictures show the same species?

The elephants in the picture actually represent two different species. The elephant on the left is an African elephant. It is larger and has bigger ears, less hair, and a different shape of head and body than the other elephant. The picture on the right is an Asian elephant. It is slightly smaller and has smaller ears and more hair than the African elephant. The two elephants are different because of the different environments where they live. More recent observations suggest that there may be a third species of elephant. The African species may need to be separated into two different species. One group of African elephants lives in the forests, and one group lives on the savanna, or grassland.

Why would creating a third species matter to science? If the African elephants are two species instead of one, it means that there are actually fewer living elephants in each species. The African elephant species may be more endangered than was previously thought. Without using careful observation to make better classifications, we may let a species become extinct and not even realize it.



  1. Choose a living thing and observe it closely. It could be a pet, wild animal, or plant. How many different observations can you list after watching the organism for five minutes?
  2. What other details can you observe if you watch the organism longer?
  3. What tool could you use for better observations, without hurting the organism? (Consider a pair of binoculars, a magnifying glass, or a microscope.)

Review science safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader , and Get Quicktime Player. (The Quicktime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 7th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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