Elephants form joints with trunk to pick up small objects to eat

October 24, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A team of researchers with members from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Atlanta Zoo and the Rochester Institute of Technology has uncovered the means by which elephants are able to quickly and easily grab and very quickly eat small objects. In their paper published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the group describes their study and what they found.

The researchers note that because of their huge size and the type of foods they eat, elephants have to eat a lot every day. Prior research has shown that adults consume an average of 200 kilograms of food each day—most of it vegetation. Because of their enormous appetite, elephants must be able to eat a wide variety of food, whether small or large. In this new effort, the researchers wondered how are able to pick up and eat things like grain or even flour with their trunk. To find out, they filmed a female adult at the Atlanta Zoo picking up rutabagas and carrots that had been cut up into different sized portions. They also fed her bran, which was in near powder form.

The researchers found that the elephant formed a joint with her trunk that allowed her to pile the bran, and then to crush it so hard that it melded into a form that she was able to pick up and eat. 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. The team noted that the elephant formed backplates of different heights depending on the type of food. They were also able to measure the force exerted by the on the matter—47 Newtons to crush a 50-gram pile of .

Explore further: Restoring balance in machine learning datasets

More information: Jianing Wu et al. Elephant trunks form joints to squeeze together small objects, Journal of The Royal Society Interface (2018). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2018.0377

Press release

Related Stories

Restoring balance in machine learning datasets

October 11, 2018

If you want to teach a child what an elephant looks like, you have an infinite number of options. Take a photo from National Geographic, a stuffed animal of Dumbo, or an elephant keychain; show it to the child; and the next ...

New theory suggests platybelodon had a separate trunk

October 7, 2013

(Phys.org) —Noted paleontologist William Sanders of the University of Michigan has suggested via email to Matt Simon of Wired Magazine, that earlier depictions of platybelodon with a gaping mouth are likely misrepresenting ...

Recommended for you

Space-inspired speed breeding for crop improvement

November 16, 2018

Technology first used by NASA to grow plants extra-terrestrially is fast tracking improvements in a range of crops. Scientists at John Innes Centre and the University of Queensland have improved the technique, known as speed ...

Cells decide when to divide based on their internal clocks

November 16, 2018

Cells replicate by dividing, but scientists still don't know exactly how they decide when to split. Deciding the right time and the right size to divide is critical for cells – if something goes wrong it can have a big ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.