Home Science Excretings! Elephants say hello in a way you’ll never forget

Excretings! Elephants say hello in a way you’ll never forget

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Excretings! Elephants say hello in a way you'll never forget

There are so many ways to say hello. People wave, bow, shake hands, hug, kiss, fist bump, say “hi” or any combo of these. But there’s one greeting from nature that we sure hope doesn’t catch on, as a new study finds that elephants often greet chums with a dump.

Elephants aren’t exactly subtle when relieving themselves, so it seems like pooping hello is the kind of behavior we should already know about, right? But it turns out that elephant greetings haven’t really been studied in detail before, and it’s hard to tell if these were deliberate grogans or simply the kinds of borries any of us might drop in the excitement of seeing an old friend.

For this fresh, steaming pile of research, scientists watched nine African elephants in a reserve in Zimbabwe over a few weeks in 2021, and recorded how they greeted each other – no matter how filthy. In that time they saw 89 greetings which included 1,282 individual behaviors.

Elephant greeting 1

The scientists might have focused on different conclusions, but in our juvenile minds there was one main takeaway from this study – 71% of those greetings involved the elephants urinating, excreting or sweating to say hi. This suggests that smell plays an important part in their greetings, which is something else we really don’t want humans to adopt.

More mature scientists, on the other hand, were more interested in how the elephants combined different senses for their greetings, depending on whether the other elephant was looking at them or not. If their bud was watching, they’d greet them by flapping or spreading their ears, swinging their trunks or wagging their tails. If their friend hadn’t seen them yet, they were more likely to trumpet, make a rumbling sound, or touch them with their trunk.

That makes sense – if you run into a chum down the street, you’ll probably wave if they see you or call their name if they haven’t (we hope you don’t take the elephant’s third option). The scientists say apes do the same, which suggests that these complex communication methods probably evolved independently in very different species. Luckily, dropping a poo to say “how do you do” didn’t catch on in the wider animal kingdom.

Somehow, copping a peck on the cheek from great aunt Gladys doesn’t seem so bad now.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications Biology.

Elephant greeting 3

Source: University of Vienna via Scimex

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