Elephant facial motor control

Oct 30, 2022 | Studies

By Lena V. Kaufmann, Undine Schneeweis, Eduard Maier, Thomas Hildebrandt & Michael Brecht – Science Advances

Abstract 

We studied facial motor control in elephants, animals with muscular dexterous trunks. Facial nucleus neurons (~54,000 in Asian elephants, ~63,000 in African elephants) outnumbered those of other land-living mammals. The large-eared African elephants had more medial facial subnucleus neurons than Asian elephants, reflecting a numerically more extensive ear-motor control. Elephant dorsal and lateral facial subnuclei were unusual in elongation, neuron numerosity, and a proximal-to-distal neuron size increase. We suggest that this subnucleus organization is related to trunk representation, with the huge distal neurons innervating the trunk tip with long axons. African elephants pinch objects with two trunk tip fingers, whereas Asian elephants grasp/wrap objects with larger parts of their trunk. Finger “motor foveae” and a positional bias of neurons toward the trunk tip representation in African elephant facial nuclei reflect their motor strategy. Thus, elephant brains reveal neural adaptations to facial morphology, body size, and dexterity.
 
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https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YJM71PyJA7Jlel-hl7SetKMqD_XTV1AY/view?usp=sharing

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https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abq2789

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