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Chem Senses. 2007 Jun;32(5):493-504. Epub 2007 May 7.

Chemical composition of scent marks in the ringtailed lemur (Lemur catta): glandular differences, seasonal variation, and individual signatures.

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  • 1Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA.


The apocrine and sebaceous scent glands of ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta) appear to serve different social functions. In behavioral experiments, lemurs modulate their responses to scent marks based on the type of odorant, their own physiological state, the signaler's physiological state, and prior social experience. To examine variation in odorant chemistry relative to olfactory behavior, we used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyze over 86 samples of glandular secretion collected over 2 years from 15 adult lemurs. Labial and scrotal secretions contained organic acids and esters, whereas male brachial secretions were composed almost entirely of squalene and cholesterol derivatives. Principal component and linear discriminant analyses revealed glandular, individual-specific, and seasonal variation in chemical profiles but no relationship to the signaler's social status. The chemical composition of the various secretions provides further clues about the function of the different glands: the higher molecular weight compounds in genital and brachial secretions may increase signal longevity and provide lasting information to conspecifics, consistent with a role in advertising resource ownership or reproductive state. Conversely, the lower molecular weight compounds of antebrachial secretions produce ephemeral signals used primarily in social dominance displays and require integration of multiple sensory modalities for effective signal transmission.

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