EleFact Friday: Whisker Mysteries

News came out this week about a fascinating study in the elephant world: a team of zoologists have dedicated their time to learning more about the whiskers on an elephant’s trunk. For today’s EleFACT, we’ll take a look at what they found.

We know that the elephant trunk is simultaneously sensitive and strong, made up of more than 150,000 muscles. Researchers in this project wanted to get a better idea at what purpose elephant whiskers serve, so they began by making close-up video recordings of trunks in action. By observing the elephants take a treat with the trunk, they found that whiskers did not move, twitch, or react to the environment in any noticeable way, different from what you would see in other whiskered creatures like rats.

After observing whiskers that were separated from trunks, it was found that they were thicker than those of other mammals and surprisingly cylindrical. It appeared that they did not have follicular nerves that would allow them to be used for any type of sensory purpose, which was perplexing. 

Scientists can only conclude (at this point) that the purpose of whiskers is to aid in gauging how much pressure is necessary when squeezing an object. This makes sense, as we have seen many instances of elephants using their trunks to pick up the smallest pieces of grass or to hoist large trees in the air. It seems that there is always more to learn about these wonderful animals, but some things may remain a mystery. 

Photo of Mara


  1. REPLY
    Johnny says

    150,000 muscles? That is unbelievable and incredible. I can barely fathom that piece of information. Thank you as always.

  2. REPLY
    Barb says

    Incredible! Another educational Friday! Thanks!

  3. REPLY
    Sheila says

    Excellent info.. I’m wondering if these trunk hairs r helpful in FEELING FOLAGE OF TREES or BRUSH IN THE NIGHT as elephants 🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘move around thru forests and small trees? THESE TRUNK HAIRS. R PUZZLING

  4. REPLY
    Terry says

    Could these whiskers also work as receivers, like antennas? Picking up energy signals or perhaps communication in a way we know nothing about? Incredible. Thank you.!

  5. REPLY
    Patricia says

    WOW!!! They never cease to amaze! With love to everyone, pachy or human.

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