The distribution, density and three-dimensional histomorphology of Pacinian corpuscles in the foot of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and their potential role in seismic communication

J Anat. 2007 Oct;211(4):428-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00792.x. Epub 2007 Aug 15.


Both Asian (Elephas maximus) and African (Loxodonta africana) elephants produce low-frequency, high-amplitude rumbles that travel well through the ground as seismic waves, and field studies have shown that elephants may utilize these seismic signals as one form of communication. Unique elephant postures observed in field studies suggest that the elephants use their feet to 'listen' to these seismic signals, but the exact sensory mechanisms used by the elephant have never been characterized. The distribution, morphology and tissue density of Pacinian corpuscles, specialized mechanoreceptors, were studied in a forefoot and hindfoot of Asian elephants. Pacinian corpuscles were located in the dermis and distal digital cushion and were most densely localized to the anterior, posterior, medial and lateral region of each foot, with the highest numbers in the anterior region of the forefoot (52.19%) and the posterior region of the hindfoot (47.09%). Pacinian corpuscles were encapsulated, had a typical lamellar structure and were most often observed in large clusters. Three-dimensional reconstruction through serial sections of the dermis revealed that individual Pacinian corpuscles may be part of a cluster. By studying the distribution and density of these mechanoreceptors, we propose that Pacinian corpuscles are one possible anatomic mechanism used by elephants to detect seismic waves.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Elephants / physiology*
  • Foot / anatomy & histology*
  • Forelimb
  • Hindlimb
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Mechanoreceptors / anatomy & histology*
  • Microtomy
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Sound
  • Weight-Bearing