Chemical analysis of temporal gland secretions collected from an Asian bull elephant during a four-month musth episode

L. E.L. Rasmussen, David L. Hess, Jay D. Haight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The temporal glands, modified facial apocrine sweat glands unique to elephants, release collectable secretions during an unusual physiological state termed "musth" in the Asian bull elephant (Elephas maximus). Recently we began the characterization of the chemical components of musth, especially in the temporal gland secretions (TGS), and the examination of the role of such secretions as agents for chemical communication between elephants. The present study focuses on possible correlations between testosterone levels in the serum and temporal gland secretions. We were especially interested in possible qualitative and/or quantitative changes in volatile compounds as the testosterone levels varied during a discrete musth period. Quantitative changes in TGS and serum testosterone were determined by radioimmunoassay. Qualitative and semiquantitative changes occurring in volatile composition were studied by high-resolution gas chromatography (fused silica capillary column, on column injection). Compound identification was by nuclear magnetic resonance, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and gas chromatography internal standards. Twenty-three major compounds and a number of minor components were identified. Androgen concentrations were correlated with TGS-specific volatiles including benzoic acid, 2-nonanone, 5-nonanol, tetradecanoic acid, and decanoic acid. The latter two compounds and (E)-farnesol, a major component of African TGS, demonstrated an inverse relationship to T levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2167-2181
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • (E)-farnesol
  • 2-nonanone
  • 5-nonanol
  • 5-nonanone
  • Elephas maximus
  • Temporal gland secretions
  • benzoic acid
  • decanoic acid
  • dihydrotestosterone
  • elephant
  • testosterone
  • tetradecanoic acid
  • volatiles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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