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Why Do Baby Elephants Suck on their Trunks?

Why Do Baby Elephants Suck on their Trunks? Wouldn't we all like to know! When a young elephant is born, it becomes hungry, wanting to nurse right away. Just like human babies, the elephant calf is eager to nurse and the mother elephant encourages this. For the first six months of its life, the baby elephant will depend almost solely on its mother’s milk for nourishment. Baby elephants can consume up to 3 gallons of milk per day, this is equivalent to 12 liters of milk per day. At times though, the mother may not be available for nursing. When this occurs, the baby elephant will suck on its trunk.

baby elephant sucking on trunk_Photo by Bernd Dittrich on Unsplash
Baby elephant sucking on trunk _ Photo by Bernd Dittrich

This activity can be compared to how human babies suck on their thumbs for comfort. Human babies are sometimes given pacifiers. These work much the same way. As the baby exercises its sucking reflex, it feels comforted and is able to calm down and fall asleep.

How baby elephants eat

When the elephant calf is first born, its trunk is short. As the calf becomes more adept at sucking on its trunk, it also learns how to use the trunk. This is an important milestone for elephants since they use their trunks to feed. Elephants can pick up items from the ground with their trunks. They can strip the bark off trees and eat it. They drink with their trunks. A great many of the activities that elephants perform throughout their lives are completed with their trunks.

Cute Baby Elephant with White Birds_Photo by Julie Wolpers on Unsplash
Cute Baby Elephant with White Birds _ Photo by Julie Wolpers

You might think that nursing, eating and drinking would come naturally to the baby elephant, but this isn’t true. Just like human babies, they learn how to do these things as they grow. Their trunks have over 50,000 muscles so they’re much harder to control than you might think. It takes time and practice to become artful at using the trunk.

Baby elephant learning how to use his trunk - via GIPHY

Do older elephants suck on their trunks?

You would think not. After all, older humans don’t suck their thumbs when they get upset. We outgrow the need to do this by around age three or so. But older elephants have been observed sucking on their trunks when they’re nervous or upset. Even mature bulls have been seen doing this at times when they are frightened or worried. Just like human beings, if something unusual, noisy or violent is taking place around them, the elephant gets tense, worried and upset. Sucking on its trunk helps the animal to calm down.

travelling elephant_Photo by Arshad & Zaheda on Unsplash
Two travelling elephants _ Photo by Arshad & Zaheda on Unsplash

A great many different young animals have been observed sucking on their thumbs. This behavior seems to span a wide variety of species, such as bears, apes, chimpanzees and even dogs and cats. For all these animals, the reflex to suck is inborn. It calms the animal or human down.

Other reasons for this behavior

There are a few other reasons why elephants suck their trunks and this pertains to both baby and adult elephants. This may sound gross but an elephant can identify another elephant by touching their trunks together. They often put urine or feces on their trunks, then touch them together and suddenly, they know each other a little better. Dogs are the most well-known animals that perform this “smelling” gesture. When a dog encounters another dog it doesn’t know, their first impulse is to smell each other’s rear end. It’s a way of making acquaintances in the animal kingdom and it has been going on for thousands of years.

elephants meeting after a long time apart_Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
Elephants meeting and showing affection _ Photo by Glen Carrie

Fun Facts

Below are just a few more fun facts about elephants:

  • Elephants weigh around 210 pounds when born.
  • Elephants are pregnant for 22 months.
  • They have an amazing sense of smell but their eyesight isn’t very good.
  • Elephants typically drink 200 liters of water each day.
  • Elephants only sleep about 3 hours per night but they spend 16 hours each day foraging for food.
  • They have very sensitive skin and often take mud baths to protect their skin from harm.
  • Elephants live for about 70 years.

The elephant personality

The elephant is a very friendly, intelligent creature. It is a very curious animal as well. They are emotional and compassionate animals. Despite all the regulations and publicity, these animals are still killed each and every day for their tusks. The best remedy to stop this practice is education. Don’t buy ivory items. If there’s no market for these items, then the elephant poaching will stop. Elephants are beautiful, magnificent creatures and the world will be a sadder place if we allow them to go extinct.

beautiful female elephant with bird on her back_Photo by Marthijn Brinks on Unsplash
Beautiful female elephant with bird on her back _ Photo by Marthijn Brinks

Thank you for reading our post about elephant ears and other interesting elephant facts. We hope you will return to find out more about elephants and share your love of elephants with us.

Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know what you would like to learn about elephants.

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