media captionThis CT scan expose the 6th "toe" - here seen in dark green towards the ago on the elephant's foot
A mysterious bony growth discovered in elephants' feet is in reality a 6th "toe", scientists report.

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For more than 300 years, the structure has puzzled researchers, yet this study says that it help to support elephants' colossal weight.

Fossils reveal that this "pre-digit" evolved about 40 million years ago, at a point when at an early stage elephants became larger and more land-based.

Lead writer Professor john Hutchinson, indigenous the UK's structure and motion laboratory at the imperial Veterinary College, said: "It's a cool secret that goes ago to 1706, when the an initial elephant was dissected by a Scottish surgeon."

Many people, that said, assumed that the structure was a substantial lump the cartilage, and over the year its purpose or lack of purpose has been debated.

"Anyone who has studied elephants' feet has actually wondered around it. They've thought: 'Huh, that's weird,' and also then moved on," that added.

But Prof Hutchinson and colleagues used a mix of CT scans, histology, dissection and electron microscopy to fix the puzzle.

The researchers claimed the structure was do of bone, return bone through a extremely irregular and also unusual arrangement.

But closer examination likewise revealed that it confirmed a strong similarity through an inexplicable bone that is found in the former feet the pandas.

This bone - i m sorry is not rather an extra digit, yet does the job of one - helps the panda to grip bamboo, and is referred to as the panda's "thumb" or "sixth finger". Moles too have a bone masquerading together an extra digit, which help them to dig.

And now, the team claims that elephants can be included to the list of varieties for whom 5 fingers or toes space not quite enough.


Prof Hutchinson said: "It would have started out together a little nub in the tissue, i beg your pardon may have actually not also have to be bone initially - it might have to be cartilage.

"A lot of of pets have this structures, cartilaginous lumps, and also they sometimes turn come bone v these an extremely different attributes in some species."

Unlike pandas and also moles, i beg your pardon only have the false digit in their front feet, elephants have actually the bone in all four of your feet.

Their five conventional toes allude forwards, providing elephants a tip-toed stance, yet the extra "toe" clues backwards into the hoe pad, adding extra support and also helping the most heavy land pet to host up the bulk.

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"We looked at early on elephants and also they had a different kind of foot, which seemed to it is in quite flat footed and didn't leave much room for this framework underneath.

"The structure appeared to evolved approximately 40 million years ago, and also it seems to have evolved in concert through elephants acquiring bigger and much more terrestrial and having upright feet, through a an ext tip-toed foot posture."

He said: "It is a an excellent example of how development tinkers and also tweaks organization to carry out different functions - in this instance to it is in co-opted come be provided like a digit."