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: Protest & Distress (1)

Annelies of the ABDC family has a newborn who is having difficult getting across the ditches along the road. Annelies is being helped by a couple of allomothers, but is in the midst of a larger aggregation with the MBs who are not totally friendly.

Something happens on the road between Annelies and Maria, we think, and Annelies steps forward away from her infant and with Open-Mouth gives what seems to be a Baroo-Rumble. Then Maria comes forward Ear-Folding and there are a couple of Alarm-Trumpets, likely from the allomothers. Annelies steps back to Retrieve her infant joining the two allomothers.

Meanwhile Maria Kicks-Back toward the infant. Mother and allomothers touch the infant with their trunks and one allomother Urinates. Another MB female is sniffing the infant from behind and the Head-Shakes. As Annelies Shepherds her infant off the road another two MB females step up onto the road behind them. There is a Trumpet. (Amboseli, Kenya)


Context: Protest & Distress (2)

The NDs are trying to Drink at a rather difficult place with a steep bank. As the clip starts Ndabele has just been Pushed over by a female from another family, it seems. We missed that part but we see Ndabele on the ground and her mother, Nashota, using her trunk and tusks to Lift her up, Helping her to her feet. Ndabele gives a powerful Baroo-Rumble with an Open-Mouth. We can see that her mother is also Rumbling. She touches Ndabele Trunk-to-Mouth and Ndabele gives another Open-Mouth Baroo-Rumble.

Other family members comes rushing over to see what is wrong and there is Rumbling by Nashota and others. Then for a third time Ndabele gives a long Open-Mouth Baroo-Rumble. Someone Trumpets. A long low frequency throbbing Rumble follows. Perhaps directed at the female who Pushed her? Ndabele comes to the fore and bends down to Drink. Then as she moves away, the female who we think Pushed her comes forward and bends down to Drink while the others walk away, Ndabele Head-Shakes and follows the others. (Amboseli, Kenya)