Five for Friday: Hey, Remember Elephants?

5 Ways to Remember Earth’s Largest Living Land Mammal

1. What’s in the Trunk? A fusion of the upper lip and nose, an elephant’s trunk is it’s most important appendage. Elephants use their trunk for a lot of things, but drinking water is not one of them. With over 40,000 muscles with no bone and just a dash of fat, the trunk is used for breathing, smelling, showering, producing sound and grasping objects. The trunk is also known to have powerful coiling and contorting movements to aid in the aforementioned tasks. An elephant’s sense of smell is possibly four times that of a bloodhound’s. Take that McGruff, the crime dog.

2. We’re here, too. The anthropomorphism of animals (pushing human characteristics, motivations and behavior on other animals) is just as dangerous as ignoring decades of scientific research and thinking humans are the only animals on the planet capable of experiencing loss and grief. While we may never know exactly what is going on in an elephant’s mind, they clearly grieve a passing loved one: often revisiting the bones of a deceased member of the herd, staying with a deceased member for days and even crying after a member has passed. Scientists can’t say if elephants now what death is in that they apparently don’t anticipate it, but rather it’s simply about loss. Elephants do express behaviors to back these findings: Self-awareness, altruism, and memory.

3. The Tusk at Hand. Tusks continuously grow at rate of about 7 inches per year in normal adult elephants. They are modified incisors in the upper jaw. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water, mark trees, move brush to clear a path and for offensive/defensive attacks when “throwin’ down”. Elephants, similar to how humans are right-handed or left handed, are right-tusked or left-tusked. And it’s easy to tell which is which; the dominant tusk will usually be more worn down. I wonder if lefty elephants have trouble with can openers?

4. Touching the Earth. Elephants love touching. It’s an important part of their communication. They also communicate with the Earth, known as seismic communication. Elephants seem to rely on leg and shoulder bones to transmit these signals to the middle ear. They have a sphincter-like muscle in the ear that they can close to cut-off outside acoustics which allow them to hear more seismic signals. For purposes much like the wolf howl, elephants use seismic communication to gather members of the heard, warn others to stay away, and aid in navigation. I’m not sure that GPS will fit on the dash of my car.

5. Might As Well Jump! Or not. Like sloths, rhinoceroses and hippopotami, the largest land mammal alive today won’t be performing one of Van Halen’s biggest hits of the 80’s. David Lee Roth aside, elephants’ bones in their feet are too densely packed together so they don’t have the flexibility and spring mechanisms to allow for jumping. Sloths are probably just too lazy.

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