Newly acknowledged methods assist elephants suck up large quantities of water

Whether or not or not it’s potential to show an previous elephant new methods, a 34-year-old pachyderm at Zoo Atlanta has not too long ago taught researchers a factor or two about how elephants suck up meals and water with their trunks.

For one factor, an elephant doesn’t use its trunk as a easy straw. It could actually additionally dilate its nostrils to spice up its trunk’s carrying capability whereas snorting up water, researchers report on-line June 2 within the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. And meaning it takes fewer snorts than anticipated to refill on water that they use to drink and hose themselves down.

The shock discovering got here courtesy of detailed measurements throughout feeding time, says Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineer on the Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Aside from aquatic creatures, not many animals apart from elephants use a kind of suction feeding that doesn’t rely on lung energy alone.

Elephants are the one dwelling land animals to evolve a protracted, boneless appendage like a trunk, says Schulz. A septum stretching the size of the trunk separates it into two nostrils. However detailed information of what occurs inside that muscular construction throughout feeding has been sorely missing. So Schulz and his colleagues labored with zookeepers at Zoo Atlanta to take a peek.

An elephant’s trunk is iconic. However understanding what occurs inside that muscular construction throughout feeding has been sorely missing. Experiments with a affected person pachyderm at Zoo Atlanta reveal its methods for inhaling every part from small cubes of rutabaga to huge volumes of water.

Utilizing ultrasound to observe what was occurring contained in the trunk throughout feeding, the researchers put one of many zoo’s African elephants by means of her paces in the course of the summer season of 2018. In some trials, the elephant snorted up volumes of water, which in some circumstances had bran combined in.

To the researchers’ shock, says Schulz, the ultrasound revealed that every nostril’s accessible quantity ballooned by as a lot as 64 p.c, up from the trunk’s unique capability of about 5 liters (though the elephant used solely a small fraction of this additional house). Circulate price of water by means of the trunk averaged about 3.7 liters per second, or the equal of the quantity of water pouring out of 24 bathe heads without delay.

A layer of chia seeds alongside the underside of a container of water helped researchers examine simply how briskly an African elephant sucks water up into her trunk.A.Okay. Schulz et al/J. Roy. Soc. Interface 2021

In different trials, the elephant was supplied small cubes of rutabaga of assorted sizes. When supplied just some cubes, the elephant picked them up with the prehensile tip of the trunk. However when supplied piles of cubes, she switched into vacuum mode. Right here, the nostrils don’t increase, however quite the elephant breathes in deeply to vacuum up the meals.

Primarily based on the quantity and price of water snuffed up by the elephant, the researchers estimated that airflow by means of the slim nostrils may at instances exceed 150 meters per second — greater than 30 instances as quick as a human sneeze, Schulz says.

 The inner construction of an elephant’s trunk — aside from the nostrils — is much like an octopus’s tentacle or a mammalian tongue, says William Kier, a biomechanicist on the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was not concerned with this examine. The trunk’s intricate musculature and lack of joints “create a terrific range, complexity and precision of motion,” he says.

“How elephants use their trunks is fairly fascinating,” says John Hutchinson, a biomechanicist on the Royal Veterinary Faculty in Hertfordshire, England, additionally not concerned with this examine (SN: 11/16/15). And though engineers have already designed robotic gadgets primarily based on an elephant’s trunk, the staff’s new findings could yield even wilder designs, he says. “You by no means know the place bioinspiration will lead.”

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