Happy EleFact Friday! You know we love every opportunity to examine the fascinating and miraculous anatomy of our favorite species, and today we’re going to take a closer look at the amazing elephant trunk. The most complex musculature of its kind in the animal world has been recently found to be composed of almost 90,000 tiny bundles of muscle fiber. This certainly contributes to their impressive abilities, from lifting large logs to picking up the tiniest bit of fruit or hay.
Without the help of any bones, trunks and the way they move have intrigued researchers and the common animal lover for many years. Similar to the arms of octopi or even the tongues of many animal species, the muscles in the trunk are complicated. Eight muscles run on each side of the trunk with one that runs the length between the nostrils. These muscles are composed of sheathed collections of fibers called “fascicles,” which contributes to their impressive functions. It was recently discovered that an entire trunk contains more than 89,000 fascicles, most of which are contained in the trunk tip, or finger, which has about 8,000 of them alone. The fascicles at the end of the trunk finger average about the diameter of a human hair and are about 2 millimeters long. By comparison, the fascicles in a human hand are 60 millimeters and 30 times longer than those in the trunk.
The main part of the trunk has much larger fascicles, arranged longitudinally to help move the trunk up and down and side to side. Transverse muscles, which spiral on the outside, help in twisting the trunk. The more radial transverse muscles are present on the top and the longitudinal are on the bottom, explaining why the trunk can bend more inward than outward.
As humans have known for many years, research like this can aid in the development of medical or scientific needs for our own species. Taking inspiration from the incredible capabilities of elephants can help in the development of robotics or other accessibility needs. It is an important reminder of how special this species, and many others, are, and that they should be respected, protected, and valued at all costs.
Photo of Guille and her impressive trunk