The enormous neural density of elephants impresses scientists

The brain of elephants remains relatively unexplored and the extraordinary musculature of the trunk as well as its versatility are still a source of questioning. Researchers have studied its motricity and established that the facial nucleus differs from that of other terrestrial mammals. Its neuronal density reveals a complexity that seems to involve other functions than the sole control of facial expressions.

We often imagine that certain feelings like empathy and expressiveness are unique to human beings. But this is far from being the case: animals are also capable of it. German researchers recently discovered that elephants are endowed with many more nerve cells than we are, potentially making them more expressive.

Lena V. Kaufmann and her colleagues at Humboldt University in Berlin looked at the nervous system of pachyderms in a study published October 26 in the journal Science Advances. They explain that the neurons of the facial nucleus of these animals are more numerous than those of other terrestrial mammals.

In the tube, 150,000 muscles activated by more than 50,000 neurons

Elephants have more than 50,000 neurons in this particular region of the brain. Indeed, the nerve cells that make it up are in control when you smile, wrinkle your nose or raise your eyebrows. As surprising as it may seem, human beings only have 8,000 to 9,000. This is ten times less than the dolphinswhich have 85,000 neurons in their rostrum.

Demonstration of the versatility of the elephant’s trunk: dexterity and strength. © The scientific journal

This profusion of nerve cells in the facial nucleus of elephants contributes to the dexterity of the fallopian tube. The latter is a very versatile appendage, which contains about 150,000 muscles and tendons. It is strong enough to uproot a tree, but so delicate that pachyderms can grasp objects as fragile asa crisp in corn.

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Morphological Difference Between Fallopian Tubes and Ears

But not all elephants use it the same way. The trunk of African elephants has two finger-like appendages at its end, which allow them to grab objects by pinching them. A bit like we would with chopsticks. Their Asian cousins ​​only have one, which causes them to wrap their trunks around what they want to grab.

The German researchers noticed that these discrepancies are, in part, related to the neural networks of the two species. African and Asian elephants have 63,000 and 54,000 nerve cells respectively. Another difference and not the least: the pachyderms of the African savannah allocate about 12,000 facial neurons to the sole control of their ears. And for good reason, they are much larger than those of their Asian counterparts. It is therefore not surprising that the latter use “only” 7,500 nerve cells to move them.

While this figure may seem derisory compared to that of asian elephants, it should be borne in mind that only 3,000 neurons are necessary for the functioning of the entire human face. The proof that we are not as expressive as we like to think.

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