How Do You Get a Baby Elephant to Cross a Road? With a Prodding Proboscis, Of Course
Proboscis is a noun, and found its way into the English language around 1570. It is derived from the ancient Greek word “Proboskis,” which means “Feeder.” The word proboscis refers to any prehensile nose or snout, including an elephant’s trunk or an anteater’s long snout. (The word ‘prehensile’ means being able to grab and grip things. For example, a lot of monkeys have prehensile tails, which are able to grab things like branches. A dog’s tail, on the other hand, is not prehensile; it’s just good for wagging and balance.)
As humans have learned, being able to grab and move things is extremely useful. Elephants use their trunks—their proboscises—for a number of things, including to communicate with each other. Elephants use them to comfort or to prod other elephants.
In this adorable video, we see the social uses an elephant’s proboscis has. It shows three elephants: two adults, and one baby. While it’s just a short way across a dirt road, the baby elephant is feeling hesitant. In fact, at the beginning of the video, the baby is hiding under one of the adults. But since they have to cross the road, the adults gently nudge the baby towards the road.
When that doesn’t work, one of the adults walks into the center of the road, but then turns around when they notice the little one isn’t following.
The adult uses its trunk, its proboscis, to gently grab the baby and pull it towards the road. After a few more nudges and pulls with their trunks—and after the baby elephant gets scared halfway across and has to hide under one of the grown-ups—they finally make it across the road. Since this video
This is just one example of how useful an elephant’s proboscis is. They use it to put food in their mouths, drink and spray water, and even breathe while their heads are underwater. And as smart as they are, some elephants even use their trunks to paint pictures! A proboscis is technically just a really long nose, but with an intelligent, emotional like an elephant, it becomes a very useful tool.