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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Sauropods, Elephants, Weightlifters


by Wayne Throop
Copyright © 1995-2003
[Text Last Updated: June 27, 1995]
[Links Updated: March 27, 2003]

Ted claims that elephants are as large as animals can possibly get in 1g. Before addressing the largest dinosaurs, it is useful to review how Ted derives his limit, document some large elephants that definitely existed in 1g, and describe in a bit more detail the rationale behind holden numbering, in order to present some more counterexamples.

The Holden Limit

Ted has long claimed that elephants never get over 16,000 lbs mass, and recently has posted an even lower claim:
Subject: Re: Ted's theories--fatal flaws 1.
Date: 21 Apr 1995 11:59:59 -0400
Message-ID: <medved.798479550@access1>
[...] some limit imposed by the design of a particular organism, at which
that organism ceases to function well [...]
For graviportal creatures such as elephants and sauropods, that
limit is now around 12000 - 15000 lbs (again, I have now come
across at least one source which cites the Smithsonian specimen at
12000); it used to be 100 - 200 tons.
Further, his argument rests on Kazmaier's performance being an absolute limit, beyond which no animal in 1g can function at all (let alone "well"). From Ted's web page:
How heavy can an animal still get to be in our world, then? How heavy would Mr. Kazmaier be at the point at which the square-cube problem made it as difficult for him just to stand up as it is for him to do 1000 lb. squats at his present size of 340 lb.? The answer is simply the solution to:
1340/340^.667 = x/x^.667
or just under 21,000 lb.. In reality, elephants do not appear to get quite to that point. McGowan (DINOSAURS, SPITFIRES, & SEA DRAGONS, p. 97) claims that a Toronto Zoo specimen was the largest in North America at 14,300 lb., and Smithsonian personnel once informed the author that the gigantic bush elephant specimen which appears at their Museum of Natural History weighed around 8 tons.
But Ted both overplays the masses of the largest known sauropods, and underplays the masses of the largest known elephants. In fact, there are several elephants that are very likely outperforming Kazmaier.

Elephant Size

In actuality, far from being 12,000 lbs, or 15,000 lbs, or even 16,000 lbs as Ted would have it, the largest known elephants exceed his 21,000 lb limit on animal size.

To start with, 12,000 lbs is average mass for an adult African bull elephant, not the maximum. The graph in [NHotAE], page 179, and the tables on 181 make this quite clear. Further, in [E&TH], similar population studies show exactly the same thing, summarized on page 188.

But the question is how big do elephants get? The studies of population statistics from [E&TH] and [NHotAE] don't purport to search for the largest; they merely show that the average is 12,000 lbs or so. For the largest, you need to use sources that pursue individual cases. Though in passing, note that [GALE] gives 5000,7500 kilograms as the range of size of adult African bull elephants (about 11,000 to 16,500 lbs).

For individual elephants, including the Smithsonian elephant Ted refers to above, I found detailed accounts in [AF&F]. The elephant was shot in Angola, and weight wasn't taken on-site. But detailed body measurements were taken, and Wood says in [AF&F]

The weight was estimated at 10886 kg, or 10.7 tonne (24,000 lb), which seems reasonable for an elephant of this size.
We can cross-check this estimate against the shoulder size measures from the statistical formulae in [E&TH] page 188. [AF&F] gives the shoulder measurement as 401 cm. The measurement method is described in appendix A of [E&TH], which matches the description in [AF&F]; also [NHotAE] lists 401.3 cm as the shoulder measure again matching data from [AF&F]. And [E&TH] gives an estimation formula as W(kg) = 0.000306 * H(cm)^(2.890), with correlation coefficient of 0.990, so we simply plug and chug:
0.000306 * 401^(2.890) ~= 10205 kg ~= 22,500 lbs
which agrees reasonably closely. (The [E&TH] cites seasonal and other variances of 10% or so, which is the size ofwhat we're seeing here.) We can also cross check this formula against other independent cases where actual weight measures were done directly, eg, McGowan's report above from [DS&S] had measurements of 340 cm and 6500 kg, and the [AF&F] estimator would predict 6334 kg. So we can have reasonable confidence in the estimations.

Further, the Smithsonian elephant is ( quoting [AF&F]) "The largest accurately measured African bush elephant on record". But they also list several other elephants in the same size range:

    Dhululamithi    384 cm   ~=  9000 kg ~= 19,800 lbs
    1960vanderByl   383 cm   ~=  8900 kg ~= 19,600 lbs
    1875Alfred      396 cm   ~=  9800 kg ~= 21,600 lbs
    1849Oswell      371 cm   ~=  8100 kg ~= 17,800 lbs
    1839Harris      365 cm   ~=  7800 kg ~= 17,200 lbs
These measurements aren't quite as accurate, nor quite as large, but they are all substantially above Ted's claim of a 12,000 lb maximum. The [AF&F] list doesn't include the elephant listed in [GBR] as the world's largest, presumably because [GBR]s was shot in the 1970s, and [AF&F] was in its publication cycle (they list items from the late '60s back, as you can see above). The GBR gives a shoulder height which translates to 411 cm, so we have
    GBR             411 cm   ~= 11000 kg ~= 24,250 lbs
The GBR lists 27,000 lbs, which may be a slight overestimate, or might simply reflect use of the more detailed measures they had.

Note that three of these elephants are outperforming Kazmaier on Ted's Holden Scale:

     Kaz          (340+1000)/340^(2/3)    = 27.51
     1875Alfred   21600/21600^(2/3)       = 27.85
     Smithsonian  22500/22500^(2/3)       = 28.23
     GBR          24250/24250^(2/3)       = 28.94
Just barely outperforming, but outperforming, nevertheless. And not for just a second or two burst: they "walked around all day", as Ted claims ought to be impossible.

And in terms of animals performing beyond the Holden Limit of 27.51 on the Holden scale, elephants can, in fact, carry themselves on two legs. Circus elephants can rise from squatting on their rear legs, with their legs totally doubled, to a "standing" posture, without using their forelimbs at all. In doing this, even a 8,000 lb elephant is outperforming Kazmaier.

So, to sum up,

which leads to this bottom line: elephants can outperform Kazmaier, and so Kazmaier's performance cannot be a limit on animal performance.

Holden Numbering

I've used terms like "Holden Scale", "Holden Number", and "Holden Limit". So I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I'll tell you all about a scale with a cube and a square.

As seen above, Ted's limit on performance is gotten by taking the mass of a creature performing a lift, accounting for any additional load, and then dividing by a factor representing cross section for isometric scaling. That is,

s = (m*g + l)/m^(2/3)


We see that the number "s" is in units of force-per-cross-section. The term m*g is force because of F=ma, l is force by definition, and m^(2/3) represents cross section because m is proportional to linear dimension cubed, so m^(2/3) is a factor of cross section.

Ted uses units of lbs for both m and l, present gravity as the unit for g. With those units, we get the Holden Scale for comparing strength. As noted, Kazmaier Himself gets 27.5 or so on this scale, and so this is the Holden Limit.

As seen above, the very largest elephants outperform Kazmaier. But also note that an elephant arising from a squat on its rear two limbs is using at most half of its total available limb extensor cross-section, which would mean 8000/(8000^(2/3)*.5) ~= 40 or well above Kazmaier's performance level, even for a 4-ton elephant.

There is also a report in [GBR] under "strongest primate", of a 100 lb chimp having done a 600 lb deadlift "with ease". Which would be 700/(100^(2/3)) ~= 32.5, which is again quite a bit over the Holden Limit.

Ted dismisses evidence that elephants can get as large as GBR's recordholder, or that other primates can outperform Kazmaier.

    From: (Ted Holden)
    Message-ID: <31i1iv$>
    [...] The test neither Throop nor anybody else has conducted would
    involve having the chimp try to carry the 600 lbs around all day
    long, assuming there is nothing bogus in the original story... [...]
    From: (Ted Holden)
    Message-ID: <3eacfp$>
    [...] Bulls--- doesn't improve with age.  The GBR numbers are
    clearly stated to be an estimate (i.e. a wild guess) made by people who
    didn't really know how big elephants get, concerning one or two
    elephants which had been shot and were lying there on the jungle floor,
    and were never weighed. [...]
Ted's position seems to be that a chimp isn't close enough to a human to make the comparison valid, but that a sauropod is, and that GBRs quite conservative estimates are invalid (despite the fact that they had a whole carcass to measure), but McGowan's guess as to the ultrasaur's mass is absolutely reliable, despite only a shoulder blade and a couple of vertebrae ever having been found of ultrasaur. In every conceivable way, the elephant data is better than the sauropod data, but Ted rejects the former, and insists on the latter.

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