Elephant trunks may be plenty long, but sometimes food is still out of reach, and it's possible the crafty giants treat their super appendages like leaf blowers, using their special air supply to problem-solve and haul food closer to them.
That's the suggestion behind a study of two Asian elephants at Kamine Zoo in Japan by researchers from The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI) and Kyoto University.
The scientists put the "leaf blower" notion to the test by digitally mapping out a virtual grid in the elephants' enclosure and then placing food in more- and less-accessible squares in the grid. Then they recorded the animals on video, as they either did or did not blow air to reel in the snacks.
Results indicated that the elephants used an average of three blasts of air to bring food closer to them, using clear, purposeful trunk adjustments to target the air where it needed to go. They were also less inclined toward any leaf blowing at all if the food was already close enough to them.
"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."
Check out this video from the researchers, to see an elephant in the study use walls to carom air from its trunk onto the food -- whether tasty leaves or an apple -- to move it within easy reach: