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Folia Parasitol (Praha). 2000;47(1):6-10.

Preference of female rats for the odours of non-parasitised males: the smell of good genes?

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Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Many animals obtain reliable information about potential mates, including whether they are parasitised or not, mostly from olfactory cues in urine. Previous experiments with rodents have shown that females can detect parasites in males that are potentially transmissible during copulation, so that females can directly avoid infection by discriminating against parasitised males. Here, using choice tests, we examine whether female rats can distinguish males infected with the tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta Rudolphi, 1819, a parasite with a complex life cycle and thus not directly transmissible among rats. Female rats tended to spend more time investigating the urine of non-parasitised males than that of parasitised males. The magnitude of the parasite burden in the infected males had no effect on the females' preference for the non-parasitised males. We also found that parasitised males had lover testosterone levels in their blood than non-parasitised males. These results suggest that females use cues in male urine reflecting either the presence of the parasite and/or lower testosterone levels to avoid parasitised males and possibly secure resistance genes for their offspring.

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