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Lemurs communicate by scent

Ringtailed lemurs can recognize each other by scent according to a study published in the current issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.

The research, conducted by Elizabeth S. Scordato and Christine M. Drea of Duke University, looked at olfactory communication in the ringtailed lemur, a charismatic primate that forms complex social groups led by a dominant female, so see what information is contained within the scent marks of the species.

“We collected samples of glandular secretions from captive lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center from Sept. 2003-March 2005”, said Scordato via email. “We then conducted a series of discrimination/choice experiments with adult lemurs to see if they could differentiate between odors from familiar animals that differed in sex, social status, and reproductive condition.”

Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“We found that male and female lemurs can distinguish odors derived from the different scent glands, and can also assess the reproductive status of other lemurs. Additionally, male lemurs discriminated between dominant and subordinate scent donors, but only if the donors were familiar; thus, ringtailed lemurs appear to show individual recognition for the unique odors of other lemurs,” she added.

Citation: Scordato, E.S. and Drea C.M. (2007) Scents and sensibility: information content of olfactory signals in the ringtailed lemur, Lemur catta. ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 2007, 73, 301e314 doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.08.006

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