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Pachyderms talk in ways we can't hear

Elephants are very social. They like company. So in the wild, they wander around in herds. These herds are family groups mostly made up of females - sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, and their babies (calves). The oldest female is usually in charge. The males are mostly off on their own.

Everyone in the herd helps take care of the babies. If a little elephant is upset, all the adults surround it and try to comfort it. How do they know when a baby feels bad? Elephants communicate in many ways.

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For a long time, people thought elephants only communicated using sounds humans can hear. When excited, elephants blare like trumpets. When they're upset, they roar so loud that it seems to rattle your head. They can also rumble like a freight train or make high-pitched trills that sound a cell phone. Elephants have a large vocabulary.

Elephants may also use body language to talk. They thump the ground with their feet or trunks. Scientists are trying to figure out if they are sending messages with thumps.

Those are just the sounds we can hear. Elephants also communicate in ways we can't hear. Just as bats use ultrasound (sound too high-pitched for us to hear) to find food, elephants use "infrasound" (sound too low-pitched for humans to hear) to communicate. Elephants' "infrasonic" calls may travel more than five miles, scientists say. That would explain how spread-out herds can coordinate their movements so well.

Elephants have one more way of sharing information. When elephants meet, they say "hello" by touching one another's mouths and feet with their trunks. They seem to be using their sense of smell to identify other elephants. At least, that's what scientists think is happening. There's a lot they still don't know.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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