Elephants communicate using various different senses: vision, hearing, smell and touch, and have an anomalous ability to sense vibrations.
Their main forms of communications are acoustic, chemical, tactile and visual.
Acoustic communication is through sound. Due to its abruptness, this form of communicating is useful in immediate situation. It would often be used in a situation such as a predator being nearby. Elephants are excellent communicators in long distances of up to ten kilometers due to the low frequency of the sounds they produce.
Elephants are able to produce both quiet and very powerful sounds at much different frequencies and sound vibrations than humans. The loudest sound an elephant can make is almost as loud as a jet taking off! The average adult elephant produces rumbles at the rate of 12Hz, almost three octaves lower than that of an adult man, averaging at 120Hz. A human is most often able to make sounds that fluctuate around a single octave, but sometimes reach two or even three among singers. Elephants are able to produce sounds that range over ten different octaves!
Elephants have an exceptional olfactory sense, much different than that of humans. They are able to smell and sense smells and pheromones we cannot imagine. They use this towards their advantage, and often use it as a communicative method.
Elephants are able to pick up signals from others in multiple different ways: they can pick up signals about their fellow elephants through their waste. Elephants have multiple glands throughout their bodies that release a few different pheromones that other elephants can pick up and register as specific signals. These might include elephants being ready to mate, being hurt, etc.
An elephant has a phenomenal sense of smell, even much more acute than a dog’s. An elephant picks up smells through its trunk, which houses seven scrolls of bones and tissue especially designed to pick up smells and hormones. Elephants have been known to be very keen sniffers, at times able to pick up smells of others from as far as 2km away!
Elephants are very tactile animals when they interact with each other, and might use their ears, tusks, feet and trunks to display power, respect, playfulness and anger. They often use their ears to playfully caress each other as a display of affection. They might use their tusks to display dominance and fight another elephant, or they might use them to carefully pick up a calf. They can also use their feet to be playful in the water or to aggressively ram against one another.
As for many other tasks, their trunks are vital in tactile communication. An elephant’s sense of touch relies on the trunk as much as humans do on their hands. The trunk is comprised of many small grooves that help it sense things with surprising precision. This helps them communicate with one another as they can send many different signals to other elephants, whether they are aggressive, friendly or romantic.
Elephants’ eyesight is rather poor compared to other mammals, especially in bright light, but they still manage to have many visual signals to communicate with one another. Elephants have been observed to not be able to see things 20m away, yet at other times they can see other elephants’ visual signals from as far as 50m away. They have a system of over 150 different signals that they might use to communicate to one another at short distances.
Summarizing elephants’ signals would be a tough task, yet we can group them into a few classifications. One is the body part they are using to send this signal, such as the trunk, ears, or even whole body. The other would include the different types of signals they might be indicating, including dominance, danger, affection and anger at another.
Here are some examples of just several known signals scientists have observed with elephants:
· Defensive behavior can be observed when an elephant back up, flattens the ears and arching the back
· Dominance would be visualized with standing tall, spreading the ears and tossing the trunk
· They might display agitation with other elephants by kicking up dust at them.
Elephants have been observed to be some of the most effective communicators on the planet, as they make use of almost all their senses to do so. This is partially due to their acute senses and to their high level of intelligence. As they are able to use their sense of smell, touch and sight to communicate a very wide range of different signals, each one specific to a certain situation. This ability to understand one another helps elephants survive and live more successfully in communities, a characteristic not many mammals have.
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