Why do elephants have long noses?

The British writer Kipling tells the story of how elephants grow long noses in the book “The Jungle Story”.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in “The Jungle Story”: “In ancient times, elephants… didn’t have a long nose. They only had a black, bulging nose, as big as a boot. You can swing from side to side.” Kipling said, but there is a baby elephant that is more curious than the others. It wants to know what the crocodile eats for dinner. But all the animals didn’t tell it, so it went to the river bank to find the answer. When it bent down to observe a crocodile carefully, the crocodile bit its nose and then pulled it “nearly 5 feet long.” Kipling said that this is how the elephant’s long trunk was born. Of course, this is a fairy tale, but like all good stories, it contains a truth, or rather, an answer to a puzzle.

The long trunk of an elephant is a snorkel
By the time Kipling’s “The Jungle Story” was published in 1902, the elephant’s trunk had fascinated Europeans for thousands of years. Although native to parts of Africa and South Asia, elephants have long been known in Europe. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod recorded in the “Shield of Hercules” that ivory was an important commodity in the 8th century BC. This document shows that ivory was probably shipped to Greece by Phoenician merchants. . Later, the elephant began to enter the battlefield. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great first encountered the Persian “War Elephant” at the Battle of Gaugamela (now near Baghdad). In the second century AD, Phoenician general Hannibal took 37 elephants, 30,000 soldiers and 15,000 horses across the Alps and entered Italy to fight. In 81 BC, the energetic Pompeo marched into Rome in a chariot pulled by four elephants.

Elephants are significantly different from other animals in size and appearance, so they have attracted the attention of scholars in the classical and post-classical eras. However, Europeans rarely have the opportunity to see them with their own eyes, so the description of elephants often depends on imagination and experience. So the stories about elephants’ appearance and habits became more and more outrageous. For example, the ancient Roman poet Obian said that the size of an elephant is “infinite.” Naturalist Pliny the Elder claimed that elephants are prone to “flatulence” in their stomachs. The 6th century theologian Cassiodorus deeply believed that elephants believed in God, but he also insisted that elephants have no knees. Isidore of Seville (circa 560-636, Spanish bishop and scholar) said that they gave birth in the water or on small islands to prevent dragons from killing their offspring.

However, the most interesting and confusing thing about an elephant is its nose. Although scholars agree that the long thing is the nose, no one can understand why the elephant’s nose is so long. In answering this question, scholars often mention the purpose of elephant trunks. Aristotle pointed out in the article “On the Part of Animals” that “parts of the limbs of animals are born to be able to perform certain functions.” In short: if a certain part of a biological limb is very Unique (such as the long neck of a giraffe), used to complete a specific task (eating leaves from a tall branch), then it is reasonable to assume that this part of the limb is for this purpose. According to this logic, if you can find out the function of the elephant’s nose, you can guess why the elephant’s nose must be so long.

The most obvious answer is that the long nose is for smelling. However, if it is just an olfactory organ, it does not need to be bigger than our nose. This shows that it has other uses. However, scholars differ greatly on what it is. Aristotle thought it was a kind of breathing tube. He believes that elephants can only eat food found underwater, but elephants are so heavy that they cannot rise to the surface, so he thinks elephants need a long snorkel to breathe. The 4th-century Christian theologian St. Ambrose considered the huge size of the elephant and the assumption that the knees could not be bent. He explained, “Because elephants are taller than other animals, they cannot bend over to find food. Therefore, they use their long noses to collect food, and they can send large amounts of water down the pipes to their throats.”

These explanations have the same problem. The method is too teleological, and the materials used are too fantastic. In the following centuries, European regimes changed frequently, and the Mediterranean region was torn apart due to religious differences, but elephants are still familiar animals. In 570 AD, the Christian king of Ethiopia attacked Mecca with elephant soldiers. In the middle of the 10th century, the Arab writer Abu Qasim Tainushi wrote a story about a traveler who vowed not to eat elephant meat again. In 1401, after the elephant Marzuq drowned in Cairo, people wrote an elegy to commemorate him.

The elephant Hanno comes to Rome
In Europe, although elephants are becoming rarer, the ivory trade continues, but it is more valuable due to scarcity. Occasionally, elephants also show up, usually as a valuable exotic gift from one monarch to another. For example, a gift from the legendary caliph Harun Rashid to Charles the Great in 801, or a gift from Louis IX of France to Henry III of England.

In 202 BC, in the ancient city of Zama, the Carthage army led by Hannibal (with elephant soldiers) met with the Roman army led by Scipio. Hannibal was defeated for the first and last time in his life.

Although elephants are rare, there are more and more paintings about elephants, especially after the middle of the 13th century. The quality of these paintings varies. Some paintings are very strange. The elephant in the painting has long hair, stubby legs and huge eyes. But some paintings are quite accurate. Although the long nose still looks like a hose, the artist painted it very carefully. There is a manuscript showing the elephant of Henry III. To emphasize, the trunk was drawn twice.

At the same time, research on elephants has returned. However, with the exception of a few exceptions such as the British geographer and historian Matthew Paris, most authors tend to simply retell the accounts of writers in the classical era, and then add some self-righteous fiction to add to the legend. Sex. British Christian theologian Bede repeated the story that elephants and dragons are enemies. A British priest in the 13th century believed that elephants only breed in the Garden of Eden.

The elephant trunk is the most distorted part. The reason is that most of the medieval animal fable collections are concise and seldom analyzed, so no one spends energy to investigate why the elephant trunk is so long. Even the flawed method of Aristotle was not used. The bishop of the German Catholic Dominican Church, the Great Albert, is the most typical. Despite being a well-known scholar, he only observed that elephants used their long noses to transport food to their mouths, and then stopped here.

In March 1513, the white Indian elephant Hanno (Hanno) arrived in Rome, which also marked the arrival of a certain turning point. Hanno was a gift from King Manuel of Portugal to the newly-elected Pope Leo X. It was the first elephant to come to the “Eternal City” since the classical era, and it naturally caused a sensation. When Hanno appeared on the street, people flocked. Hanno finally arrived at the Castel Sant’Angelo where the Pope was, and then bowed his knees to salute, blew his horn loudly, and sucked up the water in the bucket and sprayed it into the air, which made the Pope very happy. Hanno was housed in a special fence near St. Peter’s Square, and its arrival inspired new ways to understand elephants and their long noses. In a sense, Hanno came at the right time. Since Henry III’s elephant caused a sensation, people’s attitudes towards classic texts have begun to change. Although the restoration and reproduction of classical texts has become a top priority, people now read those texts with a more critical eye.

In visual art, retro is a trend, but the artist’s desire to imitate nature greatly weakened this trend. After Hanno came to Rome, he was immediately portrayed as an elephant model. The famous painter Raphael and his most famous disciple Giulio Romano painted a portrait of Hanno; the famous artist Giovanni da Udine made a bas-relief for him, every part of Hanno’s body Almost all artists, including the long nose, have been shown natural and real.

However, research on elephants from the perspective of natural science has not made significant progress. The teleological approach of Aristotle was revived. If they wish, scholars can observe the elephants up close. However, the observed details are only used to supplement, not to challenge the earlier explanation of the length of the trunk. For example, Swiss naturalist Konrad Gessner accepted the argument that body form is determined by function, and unlike classical scholars, he believed that many functions determine its shape. The breathing tube, smelling and sucking up food, do these three functions require the same length of nose? He did not give an answer.

Who is the “designer”?
The revival of Aristotle’s teleology is of great significance. If the elephant’s nose is designed to perform a certain function, then the next question is, who (or what) designed it? The most obvious answer is God. In the centuries before the Renaissance, the discussion of zoology was based on the assumption that the will of God was manifested in nature. But the field observations of scholars also prompted people to believe that the natural world is governed by universal laws formulated by a thoughtful creator. As the British theologian William Paley said, nature is like a watch. Once God is activated, it will operate according to established rules. The great Isaac Newton pointed out that the operating mechanism of everything may need to be adjusted from time to time. But in general, the operation is normal. From this perspective, the reason why the elephant’s trunk is very long is because the “watchmaker” has established a certain mechanism. Like Aristotle’s argument, this theory raises more questions than it gives answers.

There is another possibility. In the mid-18th century, the French naturalist Comte de Buffon speculated that the “designer” might be the natural world. Buffon observed that if it is not constrained by predators, the population of a certain species will grow exponentially. Therefore, Buffon assumes that nature gives each animal certain characteristics necessary for survival. The long trunk of an elephant is a good example. Buffon praised it as the “most enviable” animal limb ever awarded by nature. Buffon believes that the length of the elephant’s trunk and the ability to perform multiple functions (smell, touch, breath, etc.) at the same time promote the Elephant’s intelligence and memory. The memory of elephants is better than that of humans. Good memory is a necessary condition for elephants to survive in the wild. The long nose gives the clumsy elephant an advantage over its predators. Buffon rejected the idea that species can change over time. However, he established a certain connection between survival competition and physical characteristics, believing that the advantages brought by certain characteristics may be beneficial to the survival of specific variants. However, the answer to how this principle works is not yet known.

French naturalist Lamarck offered an answer. In “Philosophy of Zoology” (1809), he believed that animals can acquire certain characteristics through continuous practice, and then pass them on to offspring. The shadow of this theory can be seen in Kipling’s story-after the crocodile stretches the baby elephant’s nose, the baby elephant can pass on its super long nose to its children. Of course, the elephant’s trunk becomes longer and does not necessarily have to go through the crocodile. Lamarck believes that if an elephant tries to extend its trunk longer in order to reach the leaves that the tree likes to eat, the result will be the same.

The flaws of Lamarck’s theory were obvious, and it was not until the publication of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (1859) that a more convincing explanation was provided. Contrary to Lamarck, Darwin believed that in any given population, a certain degree of variation occurs naturally, and those individuals that are best suited to the surrounding environment are most likely to survive and reproduce. Over time, this “natural selection” process will facilitate the evolution of specific traits. Therefore, to understand the long trunk of an elephant, it is best to understand its response to specific environmental factors.

These factors have not been determined until recently. A study published in 2015 showed that the length of an elephant’s trunk is directly proportional to the amount of food that can be stuffed into its mouth. The elephant’s trunk is probably due to the decline in nutrients in the leaves consumed by elephants in the distant ancient times. Forced to evolve. This is where the elephant’s long nose comes from.