“Proboscis” in the animal kingdom

African savannah elephant: its nose is a “flexible hand”
The elephant’s trunk is known as the “flexible and powerful hand”. However, in a strict sense, the “elephant trunk” is not a nose, but an organ composed of the nose and upper lip. With the cooperation of more than 40,000 muscles and tendons, an elephant trunk with a length of nearly 2 meters can roll up objects of more than tens of kilograms. The two finger-like bumps around the nostrils can dexterously “pinch” small objects such as leaves. It can be described as “thickness but fineness.”

The African savannah elephant is a veritable “big stomach king”, eating about 150 kilograms of plants every day. Their trunks can pull branches, drop leaves, peel off bark, uproot tree roots, and of course pick up chubby fruits from the ground. If the food is too high to reach, the grassland elephant can wrap the trunk with its thick nose, push the tree down with its ivory and body, and then chew the fruit of victory slowly. When drinking water, the African grassland elephant with a shoulder height of nearly 4 meters will not lower its “high cold” head. It will use its trunk to draw water into the mouth. Even if the lakes and marshes are on the verge of drying up, they can use their noses to dig out shallow pits in the mudflats to collect clean water.

When taking a bath in the water, the elephant trunk is like a shower nozzle that can absorb water and spray the whole body. In order to prevent sunburn and parasite infestation, the long nose can also pick up the sand and spread it on the body. When swimming and crossing the river, the elephant trunk becomes a diving snorkel again, stretched out on the water to keep breathing. When communicating with voice, the trunk is also an indispensable vocal organ.

In addition, the African savannah elephant is considered to be a kind of emotional animal, and its keen tactile trunk is also one of their tools for expressing emotions. The greetings between the members of the elephant group, the silent mourning for the dead of the same kind, and the courtship and communication between the “lovers” are all done through the touch of the trunk.

Malayan tapir: with a “low version” elephant trunk

Malayan tapirs are large mammals that live in Southeast Asia. They are over 2.5 meters long and are nocturnal vegetarians. This animal has very poor eyesight. Survival in forests and swamps mainly relies on a keen sense of smell and hearing. The “long nose” of the Malayan tapir looks like a “lower version” of the elephant trunk, which is also composed of the nose and upper lip. Malayan tapirs are not closely related to elephants, and similar noses are just the result of convergent evolution.

Malayan tapirs use their sense of smell to search for food. Raise the nose to expose the gums, and be able to identify the urine marks left by other similar species around the territory. Although the length of the nose is far less than that of the elephant trunk, the Malayan tapir’s nose also has a certain grasping function. Malayan tapirs often live near the water and spend most of their lives in the water. They can close their nostrils and hide underwater for about 90 seconds, and their long noses can also hold plants in the water. When swimming, the Malayan tapir will expose its nose to the surface of the water as a breathing tube.

Black elephant shrew: foraging, digging, and long nose

The black elephant shrew lives in the dense forests on the east coast of Africa and is a master at finding food with a long nose. This small animal has a body length of less than 30 cm and looks smaller than the brown rat. It is worth noting that they are neither rodents nor shrews, but a very primitive mammal, taxonomically belonging to the “Elephant Shrews”. From the perspective of kinship, the relationship between elephant shrew and elephant is closer than that with shrew.

The black elephant shrew’s slender nose is like a flexible probe, sniffing around quickly, while probing and rummaging in the dead branches and fallen leaves at the bottom of the forest. They mainly feed on insects such as beetles and termites. They use their long noses to dig through the soil and lick the insects into their mouths with their tongues. Black elephant shrews have a strong sense of territoriality. In order to identify the surrounding odor marks, their noses are always sniffing and trembling. The long nose can also come in handy when building nests with dead leaves and clearing “emergency roads” for escape.

Northern Elephant Seals: Mating and humidification rely on long noses

The northern elephant seal is a behemoth that inhabits the Northeast Pacific Ocean. They mainly breed and raise young on remote islands on the west coast of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This type of seal exhibits a significant “sex dimorphism”, that is, the appearance of males and females is very different. Adult male elephant seals can reach up to 5 meters in length, weigh nearly 3 tons, and have a 30 cm bloated nose on their face. The female is smaller in size, less than 3 meters in length, less than 1 ton in weight, and the nose is very small, not surprising. From this point of view, the long nose is the second sex characteristic of male elephant seals. However, this big nose is not born with it. At around 3 years old, the nose of males will begin to develop and grow.

Like many animals with “sex dimorphism” characteristics, the reproduction strategy of northern elephant seals is one male and multiple females. During the breeding season, males often fight fiercely, and the victorious, higher-status party can build a “harem” containing dozens of “concubines”. On the beach from December to January, the male elephant seal twists its giant body, shows off its big nose, and makes a huge roar through the nose to show the male charm and deter competitors. It can be said that the long nose is the stepping stone to obtain mating rights.

In addition to showing off and vocalizing, the male’s long nose also has a “humidifier” function. After the breeding season, male elephant seals will go on a hunger strike on the coast for nearly three months, focusing on lovemaking. Although they are covered with thick fat all over, they are more hungry, but stopping eating also reduces the source of fresh water-the water needed by elephant seals is mainly obtained from food and fat. Fortunately, the long nose of male elephant seals is full of cavities, which can retain some moisture when exhaling. This moisture is undoubtedly precious to males who are extremely dehydrated. Female elephant seals only go on a hunger strike for about 35 days during the breeding period, and their water requirements mainly depend on lipolysis.

Proboscis monkey: Meimei prefers big nose

Proboscis monkey is the original species of Kalimantan in Southeast Asia. The locals jokingly call this monkey “Dutch monkey” because the nose of the male proboscis monkey is very similar to the Dutch colonists who used to operate plantations on the island. The big nose of this monkey is so unforgettable that their taxonomic “genus name”-Latin “Nasalis”-literally translated into Chinese means “nose”.