Elephants are known to use versatile trunks to grab object big and small, drink great draughts, and sniff out water kilometres away. But a tusker’s proboscis can also switch to vacuum mode to eat, with suction power ranging from faint to ferocious, researchers said.
A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology observed the world’s largest land mammal suck up rutabaga, draw chia seeds out of water, and pick up blarge tortilla chips without breaking them, the scientists reported in the journal of the Royal Society Interface.
Experiments were carried out with the help of a 34-year old female African elephant from Zoo Atlanta, including tests to see how she would deal with rutabaga chunks of varying size and number. They observed that while the elephant used it’s sensitive prehensile tip to grab on to big chunks, she prefferred suction to consume larger quantities of smaller pieces
The study found that elephants generate suction force not only by using their huge lungs, but also by increasing the diameter of their nasal passages. Using ultra sound imaging the scientists watched the elephant use muscle contractions to dilate it’s nostrils up to 30 percent, increasing trunk capacity more than 60 percent.
The elephant inhaled at speeds 30 times faster than a human sneeze. We exhale air at 4.5 metres per second. This translates to 540kms per hour for elephants.
weighing in at about 100kg, the elephants trunk could smash the chip with very little pressure. But instead of grabing it, the elephant applied suction near to or directly on the chip to guide it into it’s sensitive prehensile fingers.