AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Elephant Trunks: The Most Convenient Way to Reach Food

New studies have indicated that elephants are using the air that they blast through their trunks to grasp for food in hard-to-reach areas. Way back when, Charles Darwin had even suggested that elephants might manipulate their breath to reach food. Scientists from Kyoto University and SOKENDAI decided to research this behavior in elephants. They predicted that the farther away the piece of food is, the more frequently the elephants would use their breath/air through their trunks to bring it near them. To test their hypothesis, they observed two captive, female elephants, Suzuko and Mineko at the Kamine Zoo. The researchers created this virtual grid in a ditch, enclosing the elephants. They placed food in different areas of the grid. The various types of food included: apples, bamboo, fallen leaves, potatoes, and hay. After spacing out these foods, they filmed the elephants trying to reach for them. 128 trials took place over 32 days; each trial started when it was audible that the elephants began blowing and ended when they finally got the food or gave up. Many other factors played a role in this experiment such as the position and shape of the elephant trunks, the frequency and duration of blowing, and the ability to track the movement of food across the area.

The scientist’s research concluded that on average, it took 3 blasts of air for an elephant to obtain inaccessible food and was less likely to use this technique if the food was nearby. Mineko was the dominant female who was much more skilled at altering the position of her trunk to aim more specifically at the food to push it in the correct direction. This particular behavior has brought up discussion of whether an elephant’s breath can be defined as a “tool” or not; similar to how chimpanzees use sticks to catch ants. It’s been concluded that this study creates a new possibility to rethink the term “tool” and to possibly redefine it. For this behavior to be defined as a “tool,” it shouldn’t solely be debated as whether it’s a physical object or not, but more of how it is a physiological process that promotes problem-solving. I thought this new finding was very interesting because I was unaware at how proficient an elephant can be with its breath. Furthermore, I love how this study promoted discussion on a different topic: what can be defined as a “tool” for animals nowadays. Do you think an elephant’s breath can be referred to as a “tool?” Please share your thoughts! In my opinion, I think it can definitely be referred to as a tool because it aids in carrying out a particular function. If only humans had this type of tool… we wouldn’t have to awkwardly reach across the dinner table ever again!

The original article can be found here.

For more information about the study, check out this article and video: Elephants Use Their Trunks as Leaf-Blowers to Reach for Food.

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  1. jdna

    Another great article! Elephants are quite interesting mammals. Their trunks are unique and one of a kind. An elephants trunk The elephant’s trunk contains over 40,000 muscles and can lift up to 770 pounds! Wow! Elephants aren’t born with these impressive trunks however. Elephant trunks are stunted at birth, then rapidly elongate over the course of a few days. Calves aren’t at all adept at using these complex appendages at first, so they often tread on their own trunks.


  2. joules

    Great article Sabraina!! I love elephants and after researching more about their trunks I found out that their sense of smell is so strong, it is the prime factor in decision making! ( ) This was surprising because as humans we rely primarily on visual and auditory information. Although, smell is very important in relation to memory.

  3. agman

    Fascinating article sabraina! I particularly enjoyed the discussion of what can be defined as a tool. I researched elephant’s trunks and concluded that a trunk should be defined as a tool. My reasoning for this is particularly interesting. Elephants can swim. They use their trunk as a makeshift snorkel and can swim throughout the ocean. I feel that the elephants ability to maneuver themselves through water, categorizes their trunk as a tool.


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