Evolution and use of elephant trunks

Thu, 2007-07-19 11:13 by Hans

It's a Nose! It's a Hand! It's an Elephant's Trunk! - evolution and use of elephant trunks

Natural History, Nov, 1997 by Jeheskel (Hezy) Shoshani [Not the latest, but still interesting]

What can make a four-ton mammal a most sensitive beast?

Mobile, prehensile, sensitive, and strong, an elephant trunk in action appears to be surprisingly independent of the rest of the animal, at times almost as though it were a separate beast. This unusual hallmark feature surely helped elephants and their ancestors--collectively the proboscideans, or trunk bearers--to adapt to diverse habitats and venture into newly available niches. Proboscidean fossils have been found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, a distribution that indicates the animals once lived in habitats ranging from lake shores, marshes, and swamps to savannas, deserts, and mountaintops. Today two survivors remain: the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) of sub-Saharan grasslands and forests and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) of mixed habitat zones in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia.

Just how did proboscideans develop this most versatile appendage? In his Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling gave young readers a vivid tale of a crocodile pulling on the once-short nose of an elephant until it stretched to become the longest of animal snouts, but the evolutionary history of the proboscis is just as intriguing. The late paleontologist Alfred Romer called proboscidean history "one of the most spectacular stories in mammalian evolution."

Long article continues at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1134/is_10_106/ai_53479052