EleFact Friday: Earthshaking Communication

Happy EleFACT Friday. We often discuss different ways that elephants communicate with each other, either by touching or vocalizations. Today we’ll be talking about seismic communication. 

Seismic communication is produced by impacts on the surface of the ground that create acoustic waves which travel and produce vibrations. Elephants rely on their leg and shoulder bones to transmit these vibrational signals to their middle ear. There’s a unique muscle in the ear canal that constricts the passageway, which dampens the acoustic signals and allows the elephant to focus more on the seismic signals. This can also be intensified by leaning forward and putting more weight on their larger front feet, allowing them to detect the vibrations in the ground. This is called “freezing behavior.” 

Other studies show that elephants may have mechano-receptors in the toes, feet, or trunk that are sensitive to vibrations. These are nodes of cartilage in the cushion pads of their feet similar to the acoustic fat present in marine mammals, like whales. 

These seismic communication vibrations are created when elephants are running and can be detected by other elephants from great distances. They can also be used as somewhat of an alarm call, to alert others of potential predators. For comparison, these seismic vibrations can create waveforms that can travel distances of up to 32 km (20 mi), while sound waves from vocalizations alone travel closer to 16 km (10 mi).

Photo of Bambi, Mara, and Rana, undoubtedly creating some seismic vibrations of their own


  1. REPLY
    Susan Flewelling says

    That is incredible!

  2. REPLY
    Lynn Herrick says

    Do Lady’s foot issues impact her seismic communication capabilities?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      No – it shouldn’t impact that. Her foot problems don’t make her feet less sensitive to frequencies and they are so subtle that it wouldn’t cause her pain.

  3. REPLY
    John says

    Fascinating. Is there any evidence elephants can communicate telepathically?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      There have been no studies about that to my knowledge.

  4. REPLY
    Suzanne Eaton says

    Incredibly interesting. Elephants are amazing sentient beings. Thank you.❤️🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘

  5. REPLY
    Alana says

    Love EleFact Fridays, 20 miles away & they can feel it, Amazing! The girls look great, content & at peace.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you! We love digging into all of what makes elephants special.

  6. REPLY
    Sara says

    In the picture, they all look like they are laughing, or is that just me anthropomorphising?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Elephants don’t laugh per se (not that we know of anyway), but they do smile and show happiness on their faces. They may be doing the elephant version of a laugh that only they understand.

  7. REPLY
    Wim says

    Unbelievable. The more we know the more elephants grow. 🤗🐘❤️

  8. REPLY
    Alice says

    The girls in this picture look absolutely beautiful, so healthy and happy!

  9. REPLY
    Anella Stewart says

    Do elephants communicate by eye contact? Direct eye contact in some species esp with the alpha male of the species can be dangerous. But so far, I haven’t really noticed this with our girls. Depending on the day they are having or the horrible experiences they are harbouring prior to coming to GSE, they all seem to value, enjoy and respect each other.

  10. REPLY
    Carol says

    Absolutely amazing! Miraculous bodies and minds! 💗💗💗💗💗

  11. REPLY
    Sandi says

    I love reading that about the elephants; one more incredible thing that they’re capable of. Such amazing animals, thanks for sharing this with us. Have a great weekend.

  12. REPLY
    Carey says

    Totally fascinating and brilliant information, thank you. I have actually seen ‘freezing behaviour’! I thought it was a listening behaviour but didn’t realise it was feeling through his front feet. It was during Kaavan’s first days at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, he did it often, “listening” to his brand new environment and probably to the other elephants at the sanctuary!

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