Suck it up: Studying the sucking ability of elephants

Elephants are known to use their versatile trunks to grab objects large and small, drink water from high winds, and sniff out water from miles away.

Researchers said the proboscis of tusks could also switch to vacuum mode to eat, with suction ranging from weak to aggressive.

A team from the Georgia Institute of Technology observed the world’s largest land mammal sucking on rutabaga, drawing chia seeds out of the water, and picking up large tortilla chips without breaking them. Scientists reported in the Journal of the Interface of the Royal Society.

Until now, it was thought that only fish could have such sucking ability.

A tusker’s proboscis can also switch to vacuum mode to eat

The experiments were carried out with the help of a 34-year-old female African elephant from the Atlanta Zoo, including tests to see if she would deal with chunks of rutabaga of different sizes and numbers, such as how.

They observed that while the elephant uses its sensitive tip to nibble on large chunks, it prefers sucking to consume larger quantities of smaller pieces.

The team led by David Hu, Georgia Tech wrote: “A loud vacuuming sound is accompanied by suction as food is rapidly drawn to the tip of the trunk.”

Elephants generate powerful suction force not only by using their huge lungs, but also by increasing the diameter of their nasal passages

However, the elephant chose not to use vacuum power when given bran particles about 1 millimeter in size, “probably to avoid the seeds getting trapped in its trunk,” the study noted.

“Instead, the tips of the trunk pressed the bran together to pick them up.”

– Precision and power –

Research showed that elephants generate suction by using their massive lungs and increasing the diameter of their nasal passages.

The elephant inhaled at speeds nearly 30 times faster than a human sneeze

Using ultrasound imaging, the scientists watched the elephant use muscle contractions to dilate its nostrils by up to 30 percent, increasing probosci’s capacity by more than 60 percent.

By watching the elephant drink water from a container with chia seeds at the bottom, they were able to calculate that it sucked up the liquid at a flow rate equivalent to 24 showers at a time.

The elephant inhaled at a rate almost 30 times faster than a human.

The suction power shown is not only mighty but also accurate.

In one test, researchers placed a tortilla chip on the flat surface of a bearing plate to measure the strength of motion.

Weighing in at about 100 kilograms (220 pounds), the elephant trunk can smash a chip with very little pressure.

But instead of grabbing it, the elephant applied suction near or directly on the chip to direct it to its sensitive primitive “fingers.”

Despite the chip’s thinness and fragility, the elephant “can usually pick it up without breaking it.”

The laboratory that carried out this research specializes in biomechanics, with a particular interest in how animal behaviors can influence robotics technology development.

The study documents how the trunk mechanics have influenced existing technologies, citing robots that refuel ships or deliver air or water to victims trapped under debris.

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