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Unformatted text preview: 11 The Big Bang The elephant's trunk is six feet long and one foot thick and contains sixty thousand muscles. Elephants can use their trunks to uproot trees, stack timber, or carefully place huge logs in position when recruited to build bridges. An elephant can curl its trunk around a pencil and draw characters on letter-size paper. With the two muscular extensions at the tip, it can remove a thorn, pick up a pin or a dime, uncork a bottle, slide the bolt off a cage door and hide it on a ledge, or grip a cup so firmly, without breaking it, that only another elephant can pull it away. The tip is sensitive enough for a blindfolded elephant to ascertain the shape and texture of objects. In the wild, elephants use their trunks to pull up clumps of grass and tap them against their knees to knock off the dirt, to shake coconuts out of palm trees, and to powder their bodies with dust. They use their trunks to probe the ground as they walk, avoiding pit traps, and to dig wells and siphon water from them. Elephants can walk underwater on the beds of deep rivers or swim like submarines for miles, using their trunks as snorkels. They communicate through their trunks by trumpeting, humming, roaring, piping, purring, rumbling, and making a crumpling-metal sound by rapping the trunk against the ground. The trunk is lined with chemoreceptors that allow the elephant to smell a python hidden in the grass or food a mile away. Elephants are the only living animals that possess this extraordinary organ. Their closest living terrestrial relative is the hyrax, a mammal that you would probably not be able to tell from a large guinea pig. Until now you have probably not given the uniqueness of the ele- 332 The Big Bang 333 phant's trunk a moment's thought. Certainly no biologist has made a fuss about it. But now imagine what might happen if some biologists were elephants. Obsessed with the unique place of the trunk in nature, they might ask how it could have evolved, given that no other organism has a trunk or anything like it. One school might try to think up ways to narrow the gap. They would first point out that the elephant and the hyrax share about 9 0 % of their DNA and thus could not be all that different. They might say that the trunk must not be as complex as everyone thought; perhaps the number of muscles had been miscounted. They might further note that the hyrax really does have a trunk, but somehow it has been overlooked; after all, the hyrax does have nostrils. Though their attempts to train hyraxes to pick up objects with their nostrils have failed, some might trumpet their success at training the hyraxes to push toothpicks around with their tongues, noting that stacking tree trunks or drawing on blackboards differ from it only in degree. The opposite school, maintaining the uniqueness of the trunk, might insist that it appeared all at once in the offspring of a particular trunkless elephant ancestor, the product of a single dramatic mutation. Or they might say that thethe product of a single dramatic mutation....
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This note was uploaded on 03/19/2012 for the course BA 232 taught by Professor Anishkoshy during the Spring '12 term at Faculty of English Commerce Ain Shams University.
- Spring '12