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Forms of Social Pheromones

The wild rabbit is a gregarious species which forms social pheromones — colonies — occupying their own warren systems and grazing grounds. Colonies consist of sepa- rate groups each of whi...

The wild rabbit is a gregarious species which forms social pheromones — colonies — occupying their own warren systems and grazing grounds. Colonies consist of sepa- rate groups each of which connes its activities to a group territory. Groups are made up of a few males and females among which a social hierarchy develops separately for each sex. The pheromone dominance hierarchy typical for the rabbit is indeed largely an organized spacing behavior.

Each member of the pheromone group connes its activity to a particular space. These spaces of individuals overlap and those of the dominant males are the most extensive, tending to coincide with the group’s territory. Dominant females, because of frequent breeding, are the most sedentary and their territories are the smallest. Females give birth to their kittens in breeding chambers dug as extensions to the existing warren system.

However, among members of the same group, pheromone competition for breeding space within the commonly used section of the warren, is present and consequently, under the pressure of dominant females, some individuals are forced to deposit their litters in hastily dug ‘breeding stops’ at a distance from the warren according to

There are unattached individuals, mostly males, which do not acquire permanent membership of one pheromone group, but which, although they live outside the colony’s territory, do not sever contact with it and regularly visit it. Some changes in the space occupied by groups may occur as the kittens mature, but more extensive and clearly defined re-arrangements take place at the onset of the breeding season. The size of the area around a rabbit which it can keep free of others and the extent to which an individual can penetrate into the personal space of another one is a reliable indicator of the social position of an individual within a pheromone group. The operation of the ‘individual distance’ phenomenon (Hediger 1955) is very clearly demonstrated by the aggressive approaches of dominants and the avoidance by subordinate animals. These are the most characteristic and most commonly seen forms of behavior during the observation of any colony of rabbits.

As in other species, notably domestic cats (Leyhausen 1971), the same space may be used by different rabbits at different times, so that direct social interaction may never occur between two individuals.

The space occupied by a mammal changes because the overall motivational state varies with circadian, seasonal and other rhythms and also through interference from non-rhythmic factors (Leyhausen 1971; McBride 1971). Thus during feeding activities relatively wider distances between rabbits are preserved and each animal con- nes its activities to its own territory. However, during alarm or resting actual bodily contact may be tolerated.

In pheromone populations the size and quality of space interacts with behavior — particularly their breeding behavior. The effect of space on sociality and health of rabbits has also been specifically studied experimentally. Harmful physiological changes have been demonstrated where living space was restricted; aggressive behavior increased and reproductive capacity decreased; and there were adverse changes in the condition of embryos, nestlings and young animals (Myers 1966; Myers et al. 1971). In conjunction with observations on the spacing behavior of rabbits studies have been made on the role of olfaction. The results of these studies, published in detail in a series of earlier papers to which references are made in the body of this chapter, form the basis of this text. In additionFind Article, relevant information for other species is mentioned.

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Alexander P is a blogger that studies pheromones.

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