JUN 05, 2019 04:41 PM PDT

Elephants Can Discern Food Quantities With Just Their Noses

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Elephants are some of the world’s most distinguishable animals, with their massive sizes and particularly long trunks being some of the primary takeaways concerning their physical appearance. But as it turns out, those lanky trunks they sport aren’t just for looks – they actually give these animals a finely-tuned sense of smell that exceeds even that of dogs.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Elephant olfaction has long been a topic of interest among animal experts, and with that in mind, it should come to no surprise to anyone that researchers have published a new study just this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) regarding it.

While you and I would need to use our eyes to discern the difference between two different quantities of food, it seems that elephants can achieve this feat with the sense of smell alone. Hunter College’s Dr. Joshua Plotnik and colleagues discovered this after conducting scent-centric experiments on Asian elephants at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

According to the paper, the researchers filled two separate buckets with varying quantities of sunflower seeds and then capped the buckets with lids to make the contents invisible to the elephants. They then poked holes in the lid so that the aroma of sunflower seeds would permeate the air around the buckets, allowing nearby elephants to sniff it out.

Related: Elephant receives root canal after a cracked tuck becomes infected

One by one, the researchers observed as the elephants showed more interest in the bucket filled with more sunflower seeds than the bucket filled with less. To be sure that this wasn’t a fluke, the researchers rotated the buckets and continuously filled them with varying amounts of sunflower seeds with each run, but the results remained somewhat consistent regardless of these tweaks.

“Remarkably, when we put two different quantities in the buckets, the elephants consistently chose the quantity that had more over less,” Dr. Plotnik explained regarding the experiments.

Related: Elephant poaching impacts the entire ecosystem

It’s worth noting that some of the elephants did sometimes choose wrong, but not as often as they chose correctly. The researchers found that the males picked the bucket with more sunflower seeds more often and that a more significant difference between the sunflower seed quantities improved the elephant’s chances of choosing the right one.

It remains to be seen how the elephants discern the larger food quantities by scent alone, but one can only speculate that perhaps a more substantial portion of food smells more pungent than a smaller amount.

Perhaps additional research regarding this phenomenon can garner some useful answers.

Source: Nature, NYTimes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 21, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2020
Have You Heard of the World's Most Trafficked Animal?
If you were asked what the world’s most trafficked animal was, what would you say? If you answered pangolin, then you’d be correct. Most people...
JAN 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 21, 2020
Invasive grasses act as fire starters
We know that invasive species cause myriad problems in ecosystems including predator-prey relations, pest management, habitat degradation, etc. But new res...
JAN 21, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 21, 2020
Why is Some Chicken So Chewy? Researchers Have an Answer
Some broiler chickens suffer from wooden breast syndrome, which causes their meat to turn chewy and hard. Birds with this disorder can't be sold....
JAN 21, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2020
Sloths Are More Interesting Than You Might Think...
The humble sloth – an animal that is renowned for its slowness. In fact, it’s considered one of the slowest mammals on the entire planet. But w...
JAN 21, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 21, 2020
Perfect for Urban Farming: Gene-Edited Tomatoes that Grow like Grapes
A team of researchers from New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have created a new strain of tomatoes that can grow from bushes rather than vines...
JAN 21, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2020
Diego the Giant Tortoise Returning to Wild After Saving His Species
One would witness a plethora of exotic animals upon visiting the renowned Galápagos Islands, one of which might be the Galápagos giant tortoi...
Loading Comments...