It is a nose that can be used as an arm, a hand, a straw, a hose or even to call out your friends. Now researchers have found out how elephants can use their trunks with so much dexterity especially to pick up small objects with ease. Elephants can turn their trunk into a bone-like joint when needed to grip and pick small objects or food like grains.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Atlanta Zoo and the Rochester Institute of Technology filmed a female elephant at the zoo while she was given food of different sizes. To understand how the jumbos are able to use their trunks to lift all kinds of different shaped and sized food material, the team observed her feeding behaviour.
When the researchers placed 50 gms bran ‘cubes’ on a platform, they found that the elephant curled its trunk around the food to grab and lift it. During this it formed a joint in the trunk that allowed it to apply the force needed to pick the small sized bran. To make the joint, the elephant bent her snout at a tight angle, using part of it as a backplate of sorts. The other part of the snout then squeezed the food against the backplate, compressing it into a solid mass. Once formed, the elephant easily picked up the mass and brought it to her mouth.
Interestingly, the team noted that elephants can apply different amount of force and make different lengths of joints depending on the food item they want to pick.
“We test this idea in our experiments by providing elephants with food items varying from four to 40 000 in number. Elephants accordingly can vary the forces they apply by a factor of four, from 7 to 47 N”, write the researchers in their study published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
“Although the elephant trunk lacks bones, the formation of a joint mimics a common vertebrate strategy to reach out and grab objects.” They add. “Forming joints may help reduce the energy required to reach for and grab food items, a task they perform for 18 h every day.”
Elephants need to eat an average 200 kg of food everyday. The latest research shows how smart tactics like creating joints from their trunk allows jumbos to eat the variety of food available regardless of their size.
Featured Image via cc/Flickr