I am sure whilst on safari, you would have seen a large male lion sniff the ground, lift his head high and bear his teeth?
Or perhaps a zebra stallion curling his lips back exposing his teeth, almost as if he were smiling.
Well, if you have seen this but never really understood why animals engaged in such behavior, carry on reading…
Upon finding a site of interest, perhaps the dung of a rival or urine of a potential mating partner, an animal would expose their front teeth, breathe in with the nostrils closed, and typically lift their head high in to the air.
The behaviour facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth of the animal.
The vomeronasal organ, or the Jacobson’s organ, is an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that is found in many animals. This organ is typically used to detect pheromones, chemical messengers that carry information between animals.
It is an extremely useful tool to facilitate delicate between species of both the same and at times, different kinds.
Male’s are capable of testing the reproductive status of females. This is often seen in male lions. The response to a female’s urine is often striking and makes for incredible photographic opportunity! This reaction could be carried out several times over the span of a few minutes.
Females are also believed to use the same organ and methods to synchronize conception and birth.
An animal that can make this flehmen resoonse seem rather comical is the Cape Buffalo.
The older bulls really show their age when they bare those dirty, yellow old teeth, much to the amusement of all the onlookers.
Some animals are far more subtle about the use of this specialized organs.
Have a look at elephants greeting one another. You will often see them greeting by touching the mouth of inside the mouth of the other elephant, and then bringing their trunk into their mouth and onto the jacobson’s organ itself.
So I trust you now have a far better understanding of what this sometimes strange behavior is all about.
Remember that more often than not, it makes for fantastic photographic opportunities.
Till next time,