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Chem Senses. 2000 Feb;25(1):47-53.

'Microsmatic' primates revisited: olfactory sensitivity in the squirrel monkey.

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Department of Medical Psychology, University of Munich Medical School, Goethestrabetae 31, D-80336 Munich, Germany.


Using a conditioning paradigm, the olfactory sensitivity of three squirrel monkeys to nine odorants representing different chemical classes as well as members of a homologous series of substances was investigated. The animals significantly discriminated dilutions as low as 1:10,000 n-propionic acid, 1:30,000 n-butanoic acid and n-pentanoic acid, 1:100,000 n-hexanoic acid, 1:1Mio n-heptanoic acid, 1:30, 000 1-pentanol, 1:300,000 1,8-cineole, 1:1Mio n-heptanal and 1:30Mio amyl acetate from the near-odorless solvent, with single individuals scoring even slightly better. The results showed (i) the squirrel monkey to have an unexpectedly high olfactory sensitivity, which for some substances matches or even is better than that of species such as the rat or the dog, and (ii) a significant negative correlation between perceptibility in terms of olfactory detection thresholds and carbon chain length of carboxylic acids. These findings support the assumptions that olfaction may play a significant and hitherto underestimated role in the regulation of primate behavior, and that the concept of primates as primarily visual and 'microsmatic' animals needs to be revised.

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