Elephants are large creatures, and one of their most iconic body parts is that trunk that protrudes where you’d expect their nose to be. In fact, their trunk is very much like a nose, but it’s a nose at the end of a highly-flexible and versatile appendage that averages close to six feet in length.
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Elephants use their trunks for a wide variety of purposes. Not only can they use them to grapple trees and eat the leaves from branches, but they can also use their trunk to drink water, pick things up, and to spray water all across their back to help cool them off.
On the other hand, what looks to be a large and powerful body part at the elephants’ disposal, appears also to be a very delicate and capable tool. It seems elephants are capable of being as strong or as gentle as they want with their trunks, just like mankind can be with their hands.
According to a report in Science, mechanical engineers decided to test their theories by visiting elephants from Zoo Atlanta and having them pick up various types of foods that were sitting on special scales with their trunks. The goal was to learn how much force the elephants exerted when trying to pick things up, and so the whole thing was recorded on camera for further study.
Being food, it was hard for the elephants to resist the temptation. Of course, elephants were surprisingly gentle with the types of food that were delicate, such as tortilla chips.
While picking these gentle objects up, the elephants created what have been described as “temporary joints” in their trunks such that the whole trunk doesn’t just slam down on the food. Rather, this showed that the muscles inside the trunk can be uniquely used to carefully lift a delicate object up without crushing it.
By making these joints, the elephants were able to control where all the weight and the force originated in their trunk. In some cases, the trunk was made to weigh as little as 1/30 of its full weight thanks to the dexterity. This allowed the elephant to pick up the tortilla chip without even so much as cracking it.
So folks, it appears elephants can be gentle too, and they have all of the control they want to make their trunk as forceful or as gentle as they want. You can watch the video demonstration below: