Wildlife Wednesdays: The Wonder of Elephants | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: Feb 7th 2022

Wildlife Wednesdays: The Wonder of Elephants

Elephants are majestic creatures and also very smart! Their trunk alone is amazing as it can grab food and suck up water. A elephant's trunk can also "dilate its nostrils to boost its trunk’s carrying capacity while snorting up water," researchers report online June 2 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. They take in fewer snorts, than previously thought, to grab a bunch of water that they use to drink and hose themselves off. "Other than aquatic creatures, not many animals other than elephants use a type of suction feeding that doesn’t depend on lung power alone," mentions Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Tech in Atlanta. 

Elephants are the only land animal to have a trunk. The septum stretches as long as the trunk and separates it into two nostrils. To test and research how trunks work, the research team used ultrasound to monitor a 34 year old elephant at the Atlanta Zoo during the summer of 2018. To the researchers’ surprise, "the ultrasound revealed that each nostril’s available volume ballooned by as much as 64 percent, up from the trunk’s original capacity of about five liters. Flow rate of water through the trunk averaged about 3.7 liters per second, or the equivalent of the amount of water pouring out of 24 shower heads at once, Schulz mentioned. 

In other trials, the elephant was offered small cubes of rutabaga in various sizes. The elephant switched to vacuum mode and breathed deeply to suck up the food. "Based on the amount and rate of water snuffed up by the elephant, the researchers estimated that airflow through the narrow nostrils could at times exceed 150 meters per second (more than 30 times as fast as a human sneeze)," Schulz says.