Supplementary information from Elephant trunks form joints to squeeze together small objects

Wild African elephants are voracious eaters, consuming 190 g of food, or the weight of two corn cobs per minute. One of their methods for eating at this speed is to sweep food into a pile and then pick it up. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we elucidate the elephant’s unique method of picking up a pile of food by compressing it with its trunk. To grab the smallest food items, the elephant forms a joint in its trunk, creating a pillar up to 11 cm tall that it uses to push down on food. Using a force sensor, we show the elephant applies greater force to smaller food pieces, in a manner that is required to solidify the particles into a lump solid, as calculated by Weibullian statistics. Elephants increase the height of the pillar with the force required, achieving up to 28% of the applied force using the self-weight of the pillar alone. This work shows that elephants are capable of modulating the force they apply to granular materials, taking advantage of their transition from fluid to solid. In the future, heavy robotic manipulators may also form joints to help them to compress objects together for lifting objects in groups.



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