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Elephant Trunk


An elephant lifting its trunk to its mouth as it drinks.

An elephant lifting its trunk to its mouth as it drinks.

Photo © Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock.

Elephant trunks are muscular, flexible extensions of their upper lip and nose of an elephant. African savanna elephants and African forest elephants have a trunk with two fingerlike growths at its tip. Asian elephants have a trunk with only one fingerlike growth. These growths, also known as proboscides (singular: proboscis), enable the elephants to grasp food and other small objects. Both species use their trunks to strip vegetation from branches and to pull grasses from the ground.

To drink, elephants suck water up into their trunk. They can siphon up to ten quarts of water into their trunk. The elephant places the end of its trunk in their mouth and releases the water. African elephants also use their trunks to take dust baths that help to repel insects and guard against harmful rays of the sun. To give itself a dust bath, an African elephant sucks dust into its trunk. The elephant then bends its trunk overhead and blows the dust out over its back.

An elephant's trunk is a unique structure and a fundamental part of the animal's olfactory system. Elephants point their trunk in different directions to sample the air for scents. When swimming they hold their trunk out of the water much like a snorkel so they can breath. The trunk is also sensitive and dexterious enough to enable elephants to pick up objects of various sizes and weights. In some instances, elephants use their trunk to fend off attackers.

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