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An elephant's trunk works like a vacuum cleaner. - Scientist.

An elephant’s trunk works like a vacuum cleaner. – Scientist.

The elephant trunk has multiple functions
© APA / dpa-Zentralbild

Researchers have long known that the elephant’s trunk is a multifunctional organ – a new study has now shown that the olfactory organ of the snake’s dermis can develop into a true vacuum cleaner. In order to eat, elephants can activate their sucking function and precisely control their speed, according to a study by scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology. This absorption was previously demonstrated only in fish.

In their study, published in the journal The Royal Society Interface, researchers observed the eating behavior of a 34-year-old elephant from the Atlanta Zoo. They found that depending on the food, the animal decided differently whether to use the sucking function or not.

In order to understand when elephants decide which form of consumption to take, the researchers placed pieces of turnips of different sizes in front of an elephant cow. The female elephant holds the larger pieces at the tip of her trunk, while choosing to suck on larger amounts of chopped beets. The elephant cow also activated its absorption when eating small chia seeds from a tub of water and when eating tortilla chips – without breaking them.

Scientists led by group leader David Ho wrote that the sweeping is accompanied by “loud noise from the vacuum cleaner.” The elephant decided not to breastfeed when she was given small grains of fodder bran – “perhaps to prevent the grains from getting stuck in its trunk”.

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According to the study, elephants not only use their lungs to generate suction, but also their nasal passages. Using ultrasound images, the scientists followed how an elephant cow expanded its nose by up to 30 percent. Its trunk capacity has increased to more than 60 percent.

The authors’ institute specializes in biomechanics and focuses on research into how animal behavior is used in robot technology. According to the study, the elephant’s trunk has actually inspired technologies in the past regarding robotics that are used to refuel ships.