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Reproduction. 2009 Nov;138(5):849-57. doi: 10.1530/REP-09-0145. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

The olfactory system of the tammar wallaby is developed at birth and directs the neonate to its mother's pouch odours.

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Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


In kangaroos and wallabies at birth the highly altricial newborn young climbs unassisted from the urogenital opening to the teat. Negative geotropism is important for the initial climb to the pouch opening, but nothing is known of the signals that then direct the neonate downwards to the teat. Here we show that the newborn tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) has the olfactory apparatus to detect smell. Both the main olfactory system and vomeronasal organ (VNO) are developed at the time of birth. Receptor cells of the main olfactory epithelium immunopositive for G(oalpha)-protein project to the three layered main olfactory bulb (MOB). The receptor epithelium of the VNO contains G-protein immunopositive cells and has olfactory knob-like structures. The VNO is connected to an area between the two MOBs. Next, using a functional test, we show that neonates can respond to odours from their mother's pouch. When neonatal young are presented with a choice of a pouch-odour-soaked swab or a saline swab, they choose the swab with their mother's pouch secretions significantly more often (P<0.05) than the saline swab. We conclude that both olfactory systems are capable of receiving odour signals at birth, a function that must be a critical adaptation for the survival of an altricial marsupial neonate such as the tammar for its journey to the pouch.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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