We’re back on this EleFact Friday with more tusk talk! Like humans, there are several species of animals that show preference when it comes to being left or right handed…or pawed. Apes, whales, dogs, cats, fish, and even honeybees have historically shown lateral dominance.
Elephants have been studied to show preference with a “master tusk,” or a tusk that is used more often (and therefore more worn down.) Some elephants will typically favor a specific tusk to debark trees, dig up roots and lift objects, resulting in the master tusk to be more worn, having a notable notch, being smaller or shorter, and have a more rounded tip. However, there hasn’t been much formal research done on living elephants to understand why or what elephants this may affect.
Scientists have collected data from tusk pairs collected by trophy hunters, which is obviously not ideal. A data set of tusks pairs were examined, although it did not include the elephant’s size, age, or sex. The only characteristic studied was the weight of each tusk in a pair and whether it was the left or right tusk. The research found that almost 95 percent of the animals had tusks that were uneven, and that pairs that weighed more were even more uneven. We know that tusks keep growing throughout the lives of the elephants (we shared a bit more about this a few weeks ago) so heavier tusks would belong to older elephants. The conclusion can be made that older elephants who prefer one tusk to the other will have more asymmetry as they get older. It was also found that the right tusk was more preferred of the two, although not by much.
There are still some mysteries that remain about elephants, as we always seem to find. This is just another interesting aspect to the species that we all know and love.
Photo of Maia