Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

The Journal of Experimental Biology


Thayer School of Engineering


Body mass is the primary determinant of an animal’s energy requirements. At their optimum walking speed, large animals have lower mass-specific energy requirements for locomotion than small ones. In animals ranging in size from 0.8 g (roach) to 260 kg (zebu steer), the minimum cost of transport (COTmin) decreases with increasing body size roughly as COTmin∝body mass (Mb)–0.316±0.023 (95% CI). Typically, the variation of COTmin with body mass is weaker at the intraspecific level as a result of physiological and geometric similarity within closely related species. The interspecific relationship estimates that an adult elephant, with twice the body mass of a mid-sized elephant, should be able to move its body approximately 23% cheaper than the smaller elephant. We sought to determine whether adult Asian and sub-adult African elephants follow a single quasi-intraspecific relationship, and extend the interspecific relationship between COTmin and body mass to 12-fold larger animals. Physiological and possibly geometric similarity between adult Asian elephants and sub-adult African elephants caused body mass to have a no effect on COTmin (COTminMb0.007±0.455). The COTmin in elephants occurred at walking speeds between 1.3 and ∼1.5 m s–1, and at Froude numbers between 0.10 and 0.24. The addition of adult Asian elephants to the interspecific relationship resulted in COTminM –0.277±0.046b. The quasi-intraspecific relationship between body mass and COTmin among elephants caused the interspecific relationship to underestimate COTmin in larger elephants.



Original Citation

Langman VA, Rowe MF, Roberts TJ, Langman NV, Taylor CR. Minimum cost of transport in Asian elephants: do we really need a bigger elephant? J Exp Biol. 2012 May 1;215(Pt 9):1509-14. doi: 10.1242/jeb.063032. PMID: 22496287.