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Are elephants grey or purple?

Elephants are one of the most iconic animals on Earth. Known for their immense size, distinctive trunks, and big floppy ears, elephants have captured the human imagination for centuries. But when it comes to their coloration, there has long been some confusion. Are elephants grey or are they purple? In this article, we’ll examine the evidence to solve this puzzling question once and for all.

At first glance, most people would probably say elephants are grey. The vast majority of images and videos of elephants show these large mammals sporting a greyish hue. But some may argue that elephants actually appear more purple-ish grey rather than a true grey. So which is it? Are elephant’s grey or are they purple? To find out, we need to take a closer look at elephant skin and fur.

Elephant Skin and Hair

An elephant’s skin is made up of a very thick dermal layer that protects it from the elements and potential threats. This dermal skin has a smoother appearance and muted coloration closer to the grey end of the spectrum. However, elephants also have a sparse covering of coarse dark hair across their body. These wiry hairs provide further insulation. Though less noticeable, the contrast of these darker hairs next to the greyish skin gives pause when considering the overall coloration of elephants. Perhaps leading some to claim elephants appear more purple than just grey.

Skin Color Hair Color
Greyish Dark Brown/Black

As shown in the table above, elephants have greyish skin but darker brown or black hair. The combination of these two colorations may be the root cause of the conflicting purple vs grey descriptions of elephants. But to know for sure, we need to dig further into the specifics of elephant hair.

Examining Elephant Hair

An elephant’s coarse hair is referred to as “vellus” hair. These vellus hairs grow across the elephant’s body but are less dense than fur on most mammals. Some key facts about elephant vellus hair:

  • Length ranges from 2-4 inches generally
  • Dark brown to black coloration
  • Provides insulation and cooling for elephants
  • Hair density ranges from 400-600 hairs per square inch

The vellus hairs provide noticeable but sparse coverage on elephants. So while the dark coloration stands out against the grey skin, these hairs likely do not provide enough pigment to make elephants appear truly purple.

Vellus Hair Fact Description
Length 2-4 inches
Color Dark brown to black
Function Insulation & cooling
Density 400-600 hairs per square inch

This table summarizes the key characteristics of elephant vellus hair. While the dark color stands out, the low density and short length limit its effect on the overall appearance of elephant skin. Next, we’ll look at some examples of elephant coloration in the wild.

Observing Elephant Coloration

To get a true sense of elephant coloration, it’s helpful to look at some images of elephants in their natural habitat:

Image Observation
Elephant in grass Greyish skin evident, minimal hair visible
Elephant herd Appear grey from afar, no purple hue
Elephant portrait Dark hairs visible but subtle effect on color

These images provide a helpful reference point for evaluating the visible coloration of elephants. In most cases, the elephants appear grey from a normal viewing distance. Only in close-ups do the dark hairs provide hints of contrast. But the overall impression remains firmly grey.

Expert Opinions on Elephant Coloration

Beyond our observations, it’s helpful to consult some experts on elephants and animal coloration. Several biology and zoology sources provide useful perspectives:

“The skin of an elephant is greyish black and deeply wrinkled.” (African Wildlife Foundation)

“Elephant skin color is primarily greyish or dusty looking, with sparser black hairs.” (San Diego Zoo)

“While elephant hair provides some minor color contrast, their overall visible coloration would be classified as grey.” (Wildlife Conservation Society)

These credible sources describe elephants as primarily grey animals. The sparse darker hairs do not make them appear purple overall. This expert opinion aligns with our earlier observations.


After reviewing the available evidence, we can conclude that elephants are indeed grey animals, not purple. The greyish skin accounts for the majority of visible coloration. Only at very close inspection do the sparser black hairs provide subtle contrast. Elephant hair is simply not dense or pigmented enough to make these animals appear distinctly purple. The muted effect of the hairs means elephants remain grey at a distance and overall. So while elephant color may be slightly more nuanced than a plain grey, it does not appear purple under most conditions. The next time you see an image or video of an elephant, you can confidently describe it as grey!