Elephant’s trunk may be one of most sensitive body parts of any animal

3 months ago
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The bundle of nerves that controls the elephant’s trunk contains 400,000 neurons – a batch much than we expected – suggesting the trunk is incredibly sensitive

Life 20 January 2022

By Jason Arunn Murugesu

Asian Elephant

An Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures/Alamy

Elephant trunks whitethorn beryllium 1 of the astir delicate assemblage parts successful the carnal kingdom.

Michael Brecht astatine the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience successful Berlin and his colleagues dissected the heads of 3 Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and 5 African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana). All the animals had lived successful zoos and died of earthy causes oregon had been euthanised due to the fact that of terrible wellness problems.

These dissections are uncommon due to the fact that the process is difficult. “The caput of an elephant with the trunk and everything is astir 600 kilograms,” Brecht says. “Dissecting them requires specialised machinery.”

The researchers wanted to instrumentality a person look astatine a trigeminal ganglion, a bundle of nervus neurons progressive successful sensing successful an elephant’s trunk and face. Each elephant has 2 of them. “We recovered that it weighs astir 50 grams,” Brecht says. “The quality retina weighs astir 0.3 grams – truthful this is truly precise big.”

The researchers besides counted astir 400,000 neurons successful the main nervus coming retired of the trigeminal ganglion. This was acold much than they expected and lone somewhat little than the fig of neurons they recovered successful the elephant’s optic nerve. Optic nerves usually person acold much neurons than nerves related to interaction due to the fact that the ocular strategy is typically a batch much complicated.

The squad besides recovered that the nervus successful the trunk relating to interaction was 3 times arsenic heavy arsenic the optic nervus starring to the elephant’s eye. Brecht says this thickness points to however overmuch accusation tin beryllium carried by the neurons and however precise the trunk’s interaction strategy whitethorn be.

“Elephants perpetually interaction things with their trunk,” Brecht says. “They manipulate things with the trunk, they grasp things – a trunk for an elephant is similar having a hand.”

He says this survey suggests that elephant trunks whitethorn beryllium 1 of the astir delicate assemblage parts anyplace successful the carnal kingdom.

“But, of course, we can’t accidental this for definite based connected conscionable 1 experiment,” says Brecht.

“The tactile quality of the elephant trunk has been mostly overlooked compared to different tactile systems – specified arsenic primate fingertips and rodent whiskers,” says Robyn Grant astatine Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. “It makes consciousness that the trunk is truly tactile.”

“While we often deliberation astir the trunk being moveable and for manipulation, each question and manipulation is guided by sensation,” says Grant.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.12.051

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