Elephants Hear Through Their Feet

“The elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy: his legs are legs for necessity, not for flexure.” —William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

In A Nutshell

You’d probably expect elephants, with those giant, floppy ears, to have phenomenal hearing. And you’d be right. But what you probably didn’t realize is the fact that, amazingly, elephants don’t only hear with their ears. They actually have the capability to hear with their feet.

The Whole Bushel

Out in the wild, virtually every animal needs to come up with unique ways to adapt and survive. That’s just Darwinism 101. If you’re unable to use whatever you happened to have been born with, you’re doomed. So you’d think that an elephant’s superior hearing would be based entirely on those giant, floppy ears they’ve got.

But you’d be wrong, because as it turns out, elephants don’t just hear with their ears. They also, astonishingly, hear with their feet. Yes, you read that correctly. Elephants can hear warnings sent through the ground from other elephants, received by pressure sensitive nerves in the pads on their feet. If you’ve ever seen a video of nervous elephants stomping around when they sense a predator is nearby, guess what? You’re seeing them send these warnings to other elephants who may be in the area.

The stomps transmit the warnings via vibration, obviously, but it’s at a frequency through the ground that other elephants are uniquely genetically engineered to receive. They’re able to factor in typical seismic vibrations and determine via these receptors what is an actual warning from other members of the herd.

Believe it or not, the theory that elephants communicate with one another through vibrations has been around for a couple of decades now, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that researchers were apparently able to prove that, yes, elephants are literally built to “hear” vibrations through their feet. It’s a unique and astonishing method in which they are able to communicate.

Obviously this has some pretty major implications in the world of elephants, which believe it or not, doesn’t involve entirely around eating peanuts or dancing in tutus during what is obviously an epic, Mickey Mouse acid trip. The revelation that elephants are able to warn each other of danger through vibrations they send one another through the ground and, by extension, their feet, is thought to be a major step in the conservation of the great beasts.

On the other hand, it turns out that elephants aren’t always particularly adept at discerning what is a vibration bringing warning and what is a vibration that brings, well, anything else, because observation has revealed that unfamiliar vibrations sensed through their feet lead the animals to gather together and kind of pace nervously. That’s why researchers are working to see how they can teach elephants how to communicate more clearly, so that the signals they send are better understood, allowing elephants to protect themselves that much better.

Show Me The Proof

NatGeo: Elephants ‘Hear’ Warnings With Their Feet, Study Confirms
Elephants can hear through their feet: Researcher says ability more useful to animals in wild