Opening the mouth. Covered by the trunk the mouths of elephants are not very obvious sources of visual displays, but during excited vocal interactions elephants open their mouths wide, often holding their trunks curved upward, exposing the mouth. During many social interactions elephants become highly aroused, opening their mouths to Rumble, Roar or scream at very high sound pressure levels. Typically, Open-Mouth indicates vocalization, but Open-Mouth is also observed during Sparring when elephants raise their trunks over the heads. Open-Mouth may also be observed during aggressive interactions, when an elephant, often an adult female, may hold her mouth open as she aggressively follows another. It is possible that she is producing a very low frequency vocalization, but often the mouth is held open for a longer time than would be typical of a Rumble. 

All age/sex groups may be observed displaying Open-Mouth, but it is much more common among female elephants than among males. Males might be observed exhibiting Open-Mouth when Roaring in protest in a Submissive context, while females show Open-Mouth in Affiliative, Aggressive, Movement Space & Leadership, Coalition Building, Birth, Advertisement & Attraction and Submission contexts. Infants and calves will exhibit Open-Mouth in a Calf Protection and Reassurance context.

References: Poole et al 1988; Poole 1996: 275; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2011 [Mouth-Opening]. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Advertisement & Attraction, Affiliative, Aggressive, Birth, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Coalition Building, Submissive, Protest & Distress


Context: Affiliative (1)

Gina (right) and Carolyn (left) are engaged in a Greeting. Unfortunately the beginning is cut off but Gina is rumbling and Carolyn gives loud throaty Greeting-Rumble type response with an Open-Mouth. They are Rapid-Ear-Flapping. They reach out with a Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth.

Gina continues to reach Trunk-Toward Carolyn who Orients-Away while still Rumbling and Rapid-Ear-Flapping. Carolyn Kick-Dust as she turns. This is part of a long sequence that becomes Cadenced-Rumbling. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (2)

Two families walk toward one another on a spit of land between two water holes. Ten elephants come from the right (East) and the MB family comes from the left (West) with at least 26 elephants in their group. A couple of males watch. Soft Rumbling begins before they meet.

As the MBs approach with Maria in the lead, Annlies with a newborn, and another female with her, stand Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting, Waiting for them. Both Oriented-Away slightly. When Maria is about 4 meters from her Annelies Urinates and erupts in loud Open-Mouthed Rumbling and Rapid-Ear-Flapping, As Maria reaches her Trunk-Toward her she Open-Mouth Rumbles again. Maria Ear-Folds and Reaches-Over Annelies and Rests-Head on Annelies' back. Annelies continues to Rumble and gets Temporal-Gland-Secretion.

There is more Rumbling by the female who came with Annelies, who Backs-Toward members of the MB family, one of whom appears to Social-Rub against her. Both families continue to the east side of the water holes, where the ABDC families had come from. Annelies and her group join Amparo. Later the two families join again. (Amboseli, Kenya)