Based on a new study, scientists have found that elephants will use their trunks as “leaf blowers.” This adaptation benefits the elephants in a variety of ways, according to Discovery.
The study, whose findings have been publish in the journal of Animal Cognition, looked at two Asian elephants at the Kamine Zoo in Japan. Researchers noted that as a niche adaptation, elephants use their trunks to deliver a blast of a special, internal air supply. In this way, their as super leaf blowers.
However, applications of this ability range far beyond simply blowing leaves. The study point out that elephants will often use their internal air supply as a problem solving tool. Additionally, they will often use their air supply to haul food closer to them.
Researchers from both The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI) and kyoto university digitally mapped out a virtual grid of the elephants enclosure and recorded them as they attempted to secure hard to reach food.
Scientists found that elephants used an average of three blasts of air to bring food closer to them, adjusting their trunk methodically to better aim and maneuver. Elephants were also noted to be less likely to use any leaf blowing at all when the food was close enough to simply grab.
“By blowing air through their trunks to obtain inaccessible food, the elephants appear to exhibit an advanced understanding of their physical environment,” said study lead Kaori Mizuno in a statement. “Their skills to manipulate air might be related to those elephants commonly use, such as blowing for self-comfort and acoustic communication.”
Scientists are eager to explore what the findings of the study mean for conceptions of tool use among animals. It is considered tool use when chimps use sticks to help them catch ants, and researchers are suggesting that the elephant’s breath may also be considered a tool.