June 23, 2024

Banana expert with trunk – wissenschaft.de

Usually, elephants put whole bananas in their mouths. But at the Berlin Zoo, one specimen has evolved a surprisingly complex way of handling the sweet dish, researchers report. In a deft manner, the elephant lady “Pang Pha” peels a fruit whose quality seems to be borderline: gourmets only want to eat the brown-spotted yellow flesh of bananas. Scientists say it likely copied the unusual peeling behavior in humans. According to them, the notes once again show how highly developed and individual this wonderful trumpet is.

They understand complex relationships, use tools and recognize themselves in the mirror: elephants are among the most intelligent creatures on our planet, as many studies have already shown. Similar to a human’s hand, the elephants’ trunk is known to take on fine motor tasks: they skillfully use it for many daily activities and for social interaction. In addition, some individuals are already known to have discovered special uses for their trunks.

Now researchers at the Humboldt-University of Berlin, in collaboration with Berlin Zoo staff, are adding a new example to the set of observations. At the beginning of the story, there was a tip from an elephant keeper at the zoo: He brought the scientists’ attention to the fact that one animal in the group exhibited special behavior when handling bananas: Asian lady elephant Bang Fa sometimes peeled bananas, it was said. So the team decided to investigate the unusual behavior more closely.

She just loves the yellow and brown scrub

At first they were baffled, because Pang Pha didn’t exhibit the alleged behavior at first: When researchers presented her with beautiful yellow-green bananas, she ate them whole like all other elephants. But then it turns out it’s all about “quality”: “Our project only started when we realized she was only peeling yellow and brown bananas,” says senior author Michael Brecht of Berlin’s Humboldt University.

It turns out that Lady Elephant doesn’t like ripe, brown bananas. She threw them back towards the researchers almost with disdain. The video recordings, with borderlines, showed the particular behavior: Pang Pha quickly and skillfully peels yellow and brown bananas, through a partially stereotypical sequence of behaviour. Break the banana peel and shake the fruit until the flesh falls off. Then you eat it, and after a quick check, you throw the peel away.

The researchers then checked whether Pang Pha also behaved in the same way in the group: There were many yellow-brown bananas lying on the ground, which the elephants collected and ate. Under these circumstances, Pang Pha changed her behavior in a strange way. When I collected them, I also ate whole yellow and brown bananas—with one exception: Gourmet saved the last piece she could grab and then peeled so she could eat just the flesh.

It is supposed to be copied from humans

But what could be behind Pang Pha’s very special behavior? Apparently no one knew her specifically. However, as scientists have discovered, it was raised by human guards who sometimes fed it peeled bananas. Researchers think she may have learned to appreciate the “pure” taste and then learned how to peel it by observing people.

“We discovered a very special behaviour,” says Brecht. “What makes Pang Pha banana peeling interesting is not a single behavioral component, but a combination of factors: dexterity, speed, individuality and possible human origin,” the scientist sums up.

Source: Cellular Press, technical article: Current Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.02.076

See also  Climate change: a red alert for our planet