Elephants Can Differentiate Larger and Smaller Quantities Using Smell

Thanks to their big trunks, elephants have a powerful sense of smell, which not only helps them find water and food, but also affects their behavior in a number of ways.

For example, elephants in Africa learned to use smell as a way to recognize poachers, helping them stay safe. While all of this is impressive, it turns out that the elephants’ sniffing ability might be even more extraordinary.

According to a recent study, conducted by New York City’s Hunter College, elephants apparently can use their smell to differentiate larger and smaller quantities of food without even seeing it.

The study’s lead, psychology professor Joshua Plotnik, explained that six Asian elephants were presented with two buckets, each containing a different number of sunflower seeds and they were prompted to choose the one containing more seeds using only smell.

The results ended up surprising the research team, as the animals managed to correctly guess the larger quantity even when the difference wasn’t visually noticeable.

“Remarkably, some of the elephants were able to distinguish between 150 and 180 sunflower seeds, a difference that would be hard for you or me to determine by sight,” – said Plotnik in a statement. “While we’ve known that elephants have a remarkably acute sense of smell, their ability to distinguish between such subtle differences in quantity introduces new questions about how elephants may otherwise be using this powerful sense.”

Plotnik and his team used 11 different ratios and tweaked the conditions of the test in a number of ways, including using metal buckets that don’t retain odor and each time the results were steady.

You can check out the way the research team conducted the study in the video below.