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Dense Reconstruction of Elephant Trunk Musculature

  • The elephant trunk operates as a muscular hydrostat and is actuated by the most complex musculature known in animals. Because the number of trunk muscles is unclear, we performed dense reconstructions of trunk muscle fascicles, elementary muscle units, from microCT scans of an Asian baby elephant trunk. Muscle architecture changes markedly across the trunk. Trunk tip and finger consist of about 8,000 extraordinarily filigree fascicles. The dexterous finger consists exclusively of microscopic radial fascicles pointing to a role of muscle miniaturization in elephant dexterity. Radial fascicles also predominate (at 82% volume) the remainder of the trunk tip and we wonder if radial muscle fascicles are of particular significance for fine motor control of the dexterous trunk tip. By volume, trunk-shaft muscles comprise one-third of the numerous, small radial muscle fascicles, two-thirds of the three subtypes of large longitudinal fascicles (dorsal longitudinals, ventral outer obliques, and ventral inner obliques), and a small fraction of transversal fascicles. Shaft musculature is laterally, but not radially, symmetric. A predominance of dorsal over ventral radial muscles and of ventral over dorsal longitudinal muscles may result in a larger ability of the shaft to extend dorsally than ventrally and to bend inward rather than outward. There are around 90,000 trunk muscle fascicles. While primate hand control is based on fine control of contraction by the convergence of many motor neurons on a small set of relatively large muscles, evolution of elephant grasping has led to thousands of microscopic fascicles, which probably outnumber facial motor neurons.

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Author:Luke L. Longren, Lennart Eigen, Ani Shubitidze, Oliver Lieschnegg, Daniel Baum, John A. Nyakatura, Thomas Hildebrandt, Michael Brecht
Document Type:Article
Parent Title (English):Current Biology
First Page:1
Last Page:8
Year of first publication:2023
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