August 6, 2018
Victoria Davis, Science Magazine
See link for photo.
An elephant’s trunk is the Swiss army knife of appendages: It’s used to breathe, communicate, and even lift objects. Now, a new study finds another use—sniffing out food across long distances.
Researchers have long known that elephants and other plant-eating mammals seek their supper with their eyes. But scientists at the Adventures with Elephants facility near Bela Bela, South Africa, wanted to know whether they could do the same thing with their trunks.
In one experiment, the elephants had to use their sense of smell to choose between two small samples of plants concealed in black plastic bins.
In a second experiment, the elephants were put into a Y-shaped maze, with a different plant at each end of two 7-meter-long arms. In this formulation, they always chose the preferred plant over the less desired species, the researchers report in Animal Behavior.
The results suggest that African elephants can detect plant aromas from a distance, the researchers write, using their trunks to navigate the landscape and find the best places to dig up dinner.