Why Do Elephants Have Trunks? (What They Use Them For?)

An elephant’s trunk is an extended nose, and this nose is attached to the upper lip of the elephant. But what does an elephant trunk do? Let us find out.

So why do elephants have trunks? Elephants have trunks so that they eat, drink, smell, and socialize.

At the end of this trunk, there are opposable fingers. These opposable fingers can grasp small objects. You can tell the different species of an elephant using these opposable fingers. 

The African elephants have two opposable fingers. On the other hand, the Asian elephants only have one. The fingers at the end of an elephant’s trunk are excellent and exact. 

These fingers can make the elephant pick up a peanut, break the peanut shell, and then eat the peanut without even crushing the nut inside. So today, we will learn all about the trunks of an elephant.

What Do Elephants Use Their Trunks For?

The trunk of an elephant has no supporting bones inside. The trunk, which is about two meters long, can support its weight because there are no bones inside the trunk. With that, the trunk’s weight is carried by the elephant and the weight of the objects that the trunk will pick up. 

There are one hundred fifty separate bundles of muscle fibers that can make up the internal structure of the elephant’s trunk. The trunk is supported by a ring of cartilage that also supports the two nostrils. The weight can be one hundred sixty kilograms, and they can lift objects that weigh more than twice the weight. 

Like humans with our left hand and right hand, elephants were also said to have the same notion. Elephants also have a preferred side of their trunk. They can either prefer the right side or the left side.

Related: Why Do Elephants Have Tusks?

1. Elephants Use Their Trunks For Feeding And Drinking

One of the primary functions of an elephant’s trunk is for feeding and drinking. With the physical appearance of an elephant, it is not easy for them to eat and drink without their trunk. The elephant has two tall and large legs and a heavy head. 

This physical appearance is not conclusive from bending down and drinking or eating from the ground. Even reaching up is also a challenging activity for an elephant. So with that, the long trunk of an elephant will lessen these difficulties because they will make the elephant reach the ground or reach the trees for their food without even moving their bodies. 

Aside from that, an elephant’s trunk can also draw up and spray almost fourteen liters of water into their mouths. How amazing is that? You might have seen elephants do this all the time. 

They suck water and spurt it everywhere. With the body weight of an elephant, they have to take an enormous amount of food to their body. Elephants are naturally vegetarians. 

Their broad and flat teeth used for grinding will make the fibrous plant material into a pulp that is already digestible. The elephant’s trunk can search and retrieve food on its own because the elephant’s mouth chews the food. So the elephant can eat and find food at the same time.

2. Elephants Use Their Trunks For Smelling

The trunk of an elephant can smell up to four times of a bloodhound. With the elephant’s very keen and acute smell, the elephant’s trunk can find their friends and relatives. 

The elephant’s trunk can also sense the potential predators in the surroundings and even find food or even water sources. The length of the trunk and how flexible the trunk is allows the elephant to interpret the direction of the smell.

3. Elephants Use Their Trunks For Socializing and Communication

This is common to some people. An elephant does trumpeting vocalizations. An elephant does a trumpeting vocalization. 

These trumpeting vocalizations are done so that the elephants can communicate with the other elephants. They can also communicate or send a message to their enemies or predators and even other species in the wild. The elephant’s trunk can allow changing the shape and the size of the nostrils of the elephants. 

In this way, the trumpeting vocalizations can then be changed. The elephants can also be seen intertwining their trunks with other elephants, especially their families or friends, to socialize and communicate. Like humans, elephants also greet their families and friends.

elephant trunk

How Do Elephants Use Their Trunks To Eat?

The elephant is considered to be the largest mammal on the earth. With that, elephants eat a lot of food every day. The elephants need to have at least four hundred forty pounds of vegetables a day. 

The elephant will make joints with their trunks. Their trunks will press down on and then scoop the food. Because of the massive weight of the elephants, they need a lot of nutrients for their body. 

To scrape on fruits, twigs, roots, and tree barks, they do it for eighteen hours. Elephants would suck on the food that they want to eat. The food will not get crushed because there are opposable fingers in the middle of the trunk. 

These fingers can gently hold and guide the food that is in the trunks’ passage. They can pick the food with their trunk and spoon them to their mouth. 

The mouth can then start to chew. The trunk can now get more food because the elephant is already eating with its mouth.

Can Elephants Live Without Their Trunks?

There are real elephants that have no trunks. An elephant’s trunk is used for breathing, bathing, transporting to the elephant’s mouth, and even grasping objects or food while eating. If an elephant is already an adult, the elephant’s trunk can lift more than seven hundred pounds. 

This is because the trunk has an array of forty thousand muscles. You can imagine the strength of that if you compare it to the muscles of humans. Humans have six hundred muscles in their entire bodies. 

This is why elephants have a lot of strength. There are a lot of elephants that have been reported to have no trunks. Though the reason remains a mystery, there are some theories why an elephant loses their trunks. 

The first theory is that the lion can attack the elephant and cling to its trunk. The trunk of an elephant is solid. It is a body part that is linked to the elephant’s upper lip and lower lip. 

Elephants use their trunks so that they can pick plants and fruit from trees. This is also used to eat grass from the ground. They also use their trunk to suck up water and drink the water or bathe themselves. 

The trunk is also used to defend itself against predators and enemies. If an elephant loses their trunk, it can be life-threatening to them.

How Did Elephants Get Their Trunks?

There is a story about it. A baby elephant wants to see what the crocodile ate for dinner. 

The baby elephant went too close, and the crocodile bit and then pulled its nose. The nose then stretched out and became the elephant’s trunk.


In summary, elephants have trunks, and like their tusks, these trunks also serve many activities. The elephant’s trunk can be used for drinking and eating. 

It can also be used for their strong sense of smell. In terms of socialization and communication, elephants also use their trunks.


Image credits – Canva

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I'm David, and safari has been my passion since I was a little boy - I grew up in South Africa. I love to help spread knowledge about safari, so let me know if you have any questions. Read more