Trunk-to-Mouth

Reaching of the trunk to touch or near touch, or place into the mouth of another. Trunk-to-Mouth is a very common elephant behavior and occurs between elephants of all age/sex groups in a broad range of contexts.

In an Aggressive context Trunk-to-Mouth appears to be a Conciliatory gesture. In an Affiliative context between both relatives and non-relatives Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is observed during all manner of Greeting and Bonding situations.

In a Coalition Building context, Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is commonly observed when elephants bunch together to face off a common threat and appears to function in reinforcing bonds and reassuring one another.

In a Calf Reassurance & Protection context, Trunk-to-Mouth is a common component of Caressing behavior displayed by mothers and allomothers toward infants and calves during care, reassurance and protection. Mothers may also use Trunk-to-Mouth to get the attention of infants before moving off or in an attempt to Guide them toward or away from something. In some cases mothers use an exaggerated movement in which they touch the infant’s mouth and then drawing the infants head up and in the correct direction by sliding the along the underside of the infants trunk. A mother may also cover the mouth of a crying infant with her trunk fingers as if to console.

In a Calf Nourishment & Weaning context infants and calves use Trunk-to-Mouth to Solicit-Food from their mothers or others.

In a Social Play context Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is observed particularly during Sparring.

The above is a cursory description of one of the most quintessential elephant behaviors and much research is needed to understand the full function of this gentle gesture.

References: Douglas-Hamilton 1972: ch 6; Buss, Rasmussen & Smuts 1976; Moss 1981; Lee 1986; Lee 1987; Poole 1982; Poole 1996: 137; Rasmussen 1988; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2004; Poole & Granli 2011; O’Connell-Rodwell et al 2011 [Test-Mouth]. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Advertisement & Attraction, Affiliative, Birth, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Coalition Building, Social Play

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (1)

Two groups that have been in the vicinity of one another come together and engage in a Greeting-Ceremony. We see Matriarch gf0070 move forward to Greet them as they approach. We can see Rapid-Ear-Flapping, Ear-Folding, Trunk-to-Mouth and Trunk-to-Genitals. Note the many different individuals of different ages who engage in Trunk-to-Mouth.

This is a Greeting-Ceremony, although based on their behavior we suspect that they are from the same clan but not the same family or close bond-group. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (2)

The Mabenzi family is feeding. A juvenile male reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to young adult female. She Orients-Away. It is likely that this male is more interested in her food than in affiliative behavior, though it is difficult to attribute motive. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (3)

A scene from the C family where gf0028 moves toward other members of her family with her 5.5 male calf in tow. She approaches a young male and reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to him - he is likely her age - perhaps 16. Her calf repeats her behavior reaching Trunk-to-Mouth to the same male. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (4)

The Mabenzi family is walking in a large group. A male calf reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to an adolescent male. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (5)

The Mabenzi family are feeding in a large group. Adult tuskless female gf0014 reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to gf0022 in what looks like a Little Greeting. There is no audio. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (6)

The Mabenzi family are in the Faidherbia woodland. Matriarch Provocadora, gf0012, comes from the back to our side of the group. She turns to face us and Maya, gf0020, reaches out Trunk-to-Mouth and gives her a Little-Greeting, Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. She gives a Little-Greeting-Rumble which can be barely heard. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (7)

Matriarch gf0070 is walking toward us and is followed by her adolescent male. As he passes a tuskless female (likely a sibling) greets her Trunk-to-Mouth and appears to Social-Rub against her, while she Ear-Brushes him. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (8)

The Mabenzi family and associating males are feeding on Faidherbia pods. A young adult male approaches gm0006 and puts trunk in his mouth - Trunk-to-Mouth. We believe these two have been feeding near one another for a while. It is possible that this gesture is related to the food they are eating. Later in the clip gm0016 reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to Provocadora's adolescent daughter while they are eating pods. She returns the gesture. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (9)

A family of elephants is Moving-While-Feeding in Amboseli. A juvenile female and a female calf stop close to one another to graze. The older female reaches twice Trunk-to-Mouth to the younger female. She appears to be interested in something inside the mouth of the younger individual, putting her trunk right inside the mouth of the calf. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (10)

A juvenile female approaches a juvenile male and reaches Trunk-to-Mouth as if to steal his mouthful of grass, but doesn't. Instead she appears to be very interested in smelling inside his mouth. She repeats this action three times, once while Ear-Brushing against him in a friendly gesture. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (11)

Three calves are walking along to catch up with the main body of the family. Two males on the left and a female, right. The younger male calf reaches his trunk to the mouth of the female (Trunk-to-Mouth) as they amble along. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (12)

A 1 year old female has moved closer to Pat Derby's 1 year old male and begins feeding on a bush right next to where he is feeding. He pauses in his attempt to dislodge a sapling and Pushes her away. Afterwards she reaches her trunk to his mouth, Trunk-to-Mouth, as if in a Conciliatory gesture. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (13)

Two males stand side by side, one older than the other. The younger one is exploring the older males mouth and face, gently touching/sniffing Trunk-to-Mouth and Trunk-to-Face. He touches the males tusks and rests his trunk upon it. The older male reciprocates by reaching Trunk-to-Mouth to the younger male. He puts his trunk in the other males mouth twice before touching his own face (Touch-Self). The younger male then resumes his exploration carefully and gently touching the larger male on his forehead, above his eye and in his ear. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (14)

Two young males stand face to face and reciprocate with Trunk-to-Mouth gestures. The smaller male delicately touches/sniffs the older males face, from tusk to forehead, with the tip of his trunk. The older male reciprocates by reaching to the younger male Trunk-to-Mouth. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (15)

During a Group-March three young males pause to greet Trunk-to-Mouth Earlier two males had a disagreement, where one tusked the other, but not sure whether these are among the same individuals. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (16)

The clip starts we see V-Notch Back-Towards Grumpy Grandma, f0412, who is feeding on a bush. It appears that we have missed a bit of behavior and we are guessing that Grumpy Grandma Pushed Vi-Notch away.

The second section the end of a Head-Swipe - V-Notch backed off but immediately tried came back and reached her trunk to her mother (Trunk-to-Mouth) in a Conciliatory gesture. Then after some time Grumpy-Grandma Head-Swings gently at her for a 3rd time but V-Notch is persistent and comes right back in and again reaches her trunk to her mother's mouth in a Trunk-to-Mouth as if in a gesture of Conciliation. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (17)

Two males walk toward one another; the younger male stops and Waits, J-Trunk, Ear-Spreading and Chin-Out in expectation for the older male, Viajante, to approach. As the larger male arrives and keeps on walking the younger male Backs-Away, reaches Trunk-to-Mouth and then Trunk-to-Genitals. Viajante continues on. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (18)

Adolescent female Ileana of the I family comes over to the C family and seems to want to see Celina’s new baby. Ileana reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to Celina. Her doing so seems to concern adult female gf0004 of the C family who reaches back over in a slightly hostile manner, perhaps? After touching Celina's mouth, Ileana reaches back to touch her infant Trunk-to-Mouth. And again touches the infant Trunk-to-Face to which the infant reciprocates by reaching her trunk toward Ileana. Ileana seems to Contemplate and then reaches her Trunk-to-Mouth to Celina and then Contemplates again and Touch-Self. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (19)

A four year old male calf from the C family reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to adult male Rui, gm0008, who is in musth. The calf first sniffs his mouth and then touches his tusk. Toward the end he appears to get a little scared and steps back. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (20)

Viajante, a male about 25 years old is feeding on grass standing next to a pregnant female who looks about 12 years old, who is also feeding on grass. He starts to move and on the way past her he reaches Trunk-to-Mouth in an apparently friendly gesture and continues walking. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (21)

The I family is grazing. Inácio reaches up to his mother's mouth as if to Solicit-Food. He does take a stalk from her, but then drops it. It is difficult to determine whether this is Food-Stealing or an affiliate gesture. The latter seems more likely. His age (6 or 7 years) and the ease of grazing would seem to preclude stealing. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (22)

Jolie in estrus approaches and engages in a reciprocal Trunk-to-Mouth greeting with a young male. She seems to lean into him afterwards although this interaction is disturbed by musth male Conor who approaches. Both Jolie and the young male Walk-Away. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (23)

A medium sized adult male and a medium sized adult female greet one another Trunk-to-Mouth and standing face-to-face and engage in very gentle Sparring. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Affiliative (24)

Amparo has just Mated with Pascal. The clip starts with a view of a family member, Qapella, who was out of view when the Mating took place. She arrives now and is tested Trunk-to-Genitals by a medium sized male and gives a Female-Chorus Rumble which is answered by Amparo. Qapella walks toward Amparo and they Greet one another Head-Raising and Amparo touches Qapella Trunk-to-Mouth. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (1)

The clip starts with calves belonging to the C family - a one year old male is feeding on lianas or stolons. A 6 month female comes over and they Spar. The female tries to get the grass he was feeding on, and he holds it over his head and then drops it. She looks for it in the grass and seems to find it, but meanwhile he starts a Play-Reach-Over game, bothering her.

An allomother appears in the background as if coming to police the situation. She appears to reach her Trunk-to-Genitals of the little female as if to reassure her and stands beside them as if to break up the rough-housing. She takes a mouthful of grass and then uses a Trunk-to-Mouth to the little male as if to gently push him away. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (2)

Little E is 5 days old. His mother is browsing and pauses to touch him Trunk-to-Mouth and then Trunk-to-Genitals. When she touches his genitals he gives a High-Intensity-Husky-Cry which is drown out by the wind. His mother immediately responds by putting her Trunk-to-Mouth again, this time covering his mouth almost as if to say "there, there, hush now" and then gently draws her trunk down his.

At the same time allomother Lorato responds to his call by a Trunk-to-Genitals touch. Little E gets a semi erection from all the touching and gets all "itchy" again, using his hind legs to try to scratch his penis. More touching of his genitals by his mother and Lorato takes place and his attention is drawn to Lorato who turns away drawing him with her. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (3)

Little E is 3 days old and is standing between Mama Little E and Lorato. He starts to walk forward and his mother touches his on his chest (Trunk-to-Body) as if to distract him and keep him close. He emits a Husky-Cry. His mother then raises her Trunk-to-Mouth covering it with her trunk. Almost as if to say, "There, there, hush, now".

They both respond to his cry with Coo-Rumbles to him. Then Mama touches him Trunk-to-Genitals and he gives another Husky-Cry whereupon both touch him Trunk-to-Mouth again. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (4)

A 5 year old male from Big Mama's family looks to be alarmed by something and raises his head and spreads his ears. An adolescent female out of view reaches out with her trunk to reassure the calf (Trunk-to-Mouth) whereupon he appears to vocalize - Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting and then he Retreat-From into the safety of the family. The adolescent female reaches to reassure him again with a Trunk-to-Genitals. There is no audio. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (5)

Little E is only 2 days old and is attempting to Suckle from his mother, who reaches back as if to help him. During a pause allomother V-Notch touches him Trunk-to-Mouth and touches his trunk perhaps to draw his attention toward her. As Little E steps forward out from the safety of their legs, his mother uses her trunk to touch his genitals - Trunk-to-Genitals as V-Notch appears to do likewise. These touches stop him in his tracks and he looks almost shocked by the bright sunlight and the touches. He goes no further. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (6)

Little E is standing next to Allomother Lorato, who is browsing on a bush. His mother Mama Little E is faced away in the background. Little E seems to feel itchy and is using his hind leg to try to scratch his penis. Lorato puts her trunk down and touches his genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals). Little E has a semi-erection.

As the clip start Lorato goes back to feeding and then as Little E begins to explore she draws his attention back to her by touching him Trunk-to-Genitals and then Trunk-to-Mouth. He turns and stands close to her. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (7)

Little E is a month old and is with allomother Lorato. It is not clear why, but Lorato reaches Trunk-to-Mouth and literally covers his open mouth with her open trunk fingers - as if she may be sniffing? Then she does it a second time. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (8)

A 5.5 year old juvenile female and 1.5 year old male stand together on a termite mound. The male has been sniffing dung. The female is concerned about the filmmakers presence, but perhaps also about the dung. She reaches past dung and around his mouth and touches him gently Trunk-to-Mouth covering his mouth x 2. Then she uses her hind foot, in a protective gesture, to Shepherd him to safety behind her and climbs to the top of the termite mound and displays Standing-Tall and Ear-Spreading, as if to protect him. Then, feeling a little silly and unsure she places her trunk in her mouth (Trunk-Sucking) and Backs-Away off the termite mound in a Bow-Neck posture and disappears behind a bush. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (9)

Two infants are playing - an older male and younger female. A 5 year old juvenile female is keeping an eye on them - note her raised, attentive ears. She touches the male's genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) reaching between and around his hind legs. Then she reaches back to touch the mouth and face (Trunk-to-Mouth) of the little female. The little male reaches up Trunk-to-Mouth to touch the 5 year allomother. Adult female, gf0089, approaches and they seem to be associated with her. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Social Play (1)

Adult males gm0016 and gm0049 are engaged in a bout of Sparring. Notice how many times they put their trunks toward or in one another’s mouths. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Social Play (2)

Adult males G7 and gm0016 are engaged in a bout of Sparring. Notice how many times they put their trunks toward or in one another’s mouths. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Social Play (3)

Two infants are playing - an older male and younger female. The female reaches her Trunk-to-Mouth of the older male. A 5 year old juvenile female is keeping an eye on them - note her raised, attentive ears. She touches the male's genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) reaching between and around his hind legs. Then she reaches back to touch the mouth and face (Trunk-to-Mouth) of the little female. The little male reaches up Trunk-to-Mouth to touch the 5 year allomother. Adult female, gf0089, approaches and they seem to be associated with her. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Coalition Building (1)

The Mabenzi family Bunching as they walk. They are on their way to water and were caught out the open and are concerned. Then they stop walking and Bunch, Standing-Tall. Marcela, gf0017, reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to Valente, gf0013 x 2 with gf0025 between them. The audio is just wind noise but note the vocalizing posture after Marcela has touched Valente - she turns facing out with Mwana Nzo, both Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. Then they are on the move again in a tight Group-March. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Coalition Building (2)

An End-Zone-Dance is a form of Bonding-Ceremony that takes place after a defensive action. This End-Zone-Dance took place after multiple Group-Advances and multiple Group- and sustained Charges by members of the Mabenzi family. After Valente's almost two minute Charge which was joined by the entire family, Valente and Mwana Nzo High-Five and others all gather in an End-Zone-Dance. The main players - Valente and Mwana-Nzo Rumble with Open-Mouth, while they display Rapid-Ear-Flapping, Head-Raising, Tail-Raising, and Defecating. They reach their trunks to one another's mouth, Trunk-to-Mouth, and then display Trunk-Twining, Open-Mouth-to-Open-Mouth. Intermittently there are Social-Trumpets. Then Mwana Nzo initiates another Group Advance. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Coalition Building (3)

This clip is taken from a longer sequence of behavior of the I family. As the clip starts matriarch iJunia, gf0005, has slowed her Charge to a Bow-Neck-Advance-Toward. She takes the lead with Isabella, gf0038, by her side and a tiny baby in tow. Someone gives a Trumpet-Blast and iJunia Head-Dips. They stop near us and Isabella reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to iJunia. They Bunch facing us Standing-Tall and Head-Swinging and iJunia Head-Dip-Touch-Ground. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Coalition Building (4)

Provocadora, gf0012, has initiated this Group-Advance, which Mwana Nzo, gf0012, now leads - Advancing-Toward us still with a mouthful of food. Behind her Provocadora moves toward Valente, gf0013, and displays Open-Mouth as she reaches her Trunk-to-Mouth to Valente. We see Provocadora raise her head - Head-Raising - in a High-Five and hear what sounds like a Social-Trumpet. This is part of coalition building as they join forces in this Group-Advance instigated by Provocadora. We believe this is a reciprocal Trunk-to-Mouth. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (1)

Pascal has just arrived in the ND family where Nastya is in estrus. He is walking toward her when another juvenile female, Ndebele, stops and turns to greet him Trunk-to-Mouth. He reciprocates. She seems excited by her greeting and Head-Waggles - almost a Head-Shake and they continue on their way. (Amboseli, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Mouth

Context: Aggressive (1)

Amparo is at the end of estrus. The day before she Mated with musth male Pascal. She has just Mated with a medium sized male whom she is standing beside. She is approached by a young male who has been threatening and harassing her and she has sought protection from the slightly larger male. She Advances-Toward the young male Chin-Out and he Orients-Toward her. She Touches-Self and then adopts Periscope-Trunk. Both Ear-Fold at each other. The male reaches toward her Trunk-to-Mouth and she reciprocates. As she does he Lunges at her and they Tusk-Clank, still Ear-Folding. They both Back-Away from one another. (Amboseli, Kenya)