Noses main content.


Part of the Extreme Mammals exhibition.

After a look at some of the more extreme noses among mammals, you might rethink the saying "It's as plain as the nose on your face." In fact, you might never say that again.

Macrauchenia went extinct around 10,000 years ago. Like all mammals, it had a nose--or in this case, a trunk-- made from soft tissues like skin, muscles and cartilage.
AMNH/D. Finnin

Take Macrauchenia, for example. This extinct mammal lived in South America more than 10,000 years ago. Its camel-like body and giraffe-like neck supported one of the most extreme mammal noses: a long, flexible trunk, which is similar but smaller than an elephant's.

Researchers figured out that Macrauchenia had such a unique nose not by finding remnants of the actual trunk - the soft tissue of the trunk wouldn't have lasted 10,000 years. By comparing earlier skulls of members of the genus Macrauchenia to later ones, scientists noticed that over thousands of years, the nasal cavity "moved" back toward the top of the head as new species evolved.
On the other hand, the modern elephant's trunk, while more familiar to humans, is amazingly versatile for a nose. From acting as a giant straw to signaling other animals, elephants use their noses for a lot more than smelling (or sneezing).

Fun Facts

  • Charles Darwin was the first scientist to discover bones of Macrauchenia. He found them in Argentina in 1834, during his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle.
  • The elephant's trunk is the Swiss Army knife of mammal appendages - in addition to drinking and signaling other animals with its nose, the elephant can also snorkel, caress mates and children, and bash would-be predators on the head.
  • A trunk in the air can signal "Get away!" while a lowered trunk can say "Go ahead."