Many invertebrates use pheromones
Some animals have clever ways to ward off predators or announce when trouble is in the neighborhood. The sea anemone Antbopleura elegantissima uses a warning pheromone called anthopleurine. When the ...
Some animals have clever ways to ward off predators or announce when trouble is in the neighborhood.
The sea anemone Antbopleura elegantissima uses a warning pheromone called anthopleurine. When the anemone is injured, it goes into convulsions and releases a jet of anthopleurine into the water to announce to other members of its “family” that danger is nearby. The other anemones respond by exing their tentacles, retracting them into their mouths and then clamping their mouths shut. This chain reaction, which allows the anemones to garrison their fragile anatomical structures before the invader arrives, occurs in a matter of seconds.
The anemone can also protect itself from one of its primary predators, the sea slug Aeolidia papillosa. The slug feeds on the succulent esh of the anemone’s tentacles, but it doesn’t know that its meal is most likely tainted with anthopleurine. Thus, upon finishing its dinner, the slug is full of the anemone’s potent warning pheromone, which it is not equipped to metabo- lize. Without the ability to metabolize anthopleurine, the sea slug is a moving vessel filled with anemone alarm pheromone. When the pheromone-filled slug approaches other anemones, it announces its arrival by unwittingly releasing the ingested pheromone into the water. The anemones are warned that they, too, are at risk of being eaten.
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The earthworm Lumbricus terrestris produces a warning pheromone when it is in danger or injured. It then secretes a substance that infuses its body with a taste that is unpleasant to many of the animals that feed on it.
Many invertebrates use pheromones to help them journey along the treacherous path of survival. Without the ability to use this chemical communication, their futures would be uncertain.
Once spring feeding begins in the waters of the Arctic, the female Arctic barnacle (Balcmus balamoides) emits a pheromone that tells her eggs food is plentiful and that it is therefore safe for the larvae to hatch. This hatching pheromone, triggered when the female begins to eat, keeps her eggs safely intact until she tried.
Pig Breath and Other Animal Wonders
The dominant female can even go so far as to suppress ovulation in her inferior sisters so that she is the only one to give birth! A female rodent wishing to assert her status within the pack will emit a pheromone designed to tell the other (often younger) females that she is the dominant one and that they are to assume a submissive demeanor.
Biologist David Abbott of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center in Madison has documented dominant-submissive behavior patterns among groups of female marmosets. In mar- moset communities, only one female gives birth, often to twins. The other females help her to care for her babies, finding food and baby-sitting when needed. Abbott found that the dominant female—the one who gives birth—uses a pheromone that causes the “inferior” monkeys’ ovaries to shrink and stop releasing eggs.
Although pheromones are the main cause of ovulation suppression in marmosets, Abbott found that visual cues and a good deal of pushing and shoving (which amount to bullying) are also a factor. Abbott housed submissive females together; each of these monkeys ovulated about once every ten days. When these submissive females were exposed to the phero- mones and sideways looks of a dominant female, they took three times as long to ovulate. Other animals that use ovulation-suppressing pheromones include the jackal, mongoose, and naked mole rat.
To ensure their success on earth, some plants and animals engage in clever ploys with pheromones. Copycat pheromones are marvelous examples of the “first me, then you” attitudes often displayed in this world.
Perhaps one of the most amazing examples of copycat pheromones is found in tropical orchids. Orchids need wasps to spread their pollen. Consequently, some Mediterranean and South American varieties produce owers similar in appearance.
To encourage the spreading of its pollen, the orchid sends up a plume of fabricated wasp sex pheromones, essentially turning itself into a female wasp. Confused male wasps attempt to mate with the owers. As if intoxicated by the heady aroma of the female of their kind, the males y from one orchid to the next, stopping for a little “love” at each ower and thereby spreading the pollen
The tiny bolas spider has a creative way of making sure its main food source, the moth, is always in plentiful supply: It mimics the pheromones of the female moth. When male moths sense the pheromone, they mistakenly think the producer is the female of their species, not a predator. They y toward the source the spider and upon arriving find themselves trapped in a deadly web. The bolas spider is a skilled pheromonal crossdresser. It can mimic the pheromones of sixteen different moth species!
Some beetles, arachnids, and millipedes can emit a pheromone identical to that of ant larvae. This chemical disguise allows them to live inside ant nests, where they dine inconspicuously on the ants’ precious eggs and larvae.
The honeybee and the ant provide two of the most complete examples of pheromone communication, and they are among the most sophisticated users of pheromones known to the scientific world.
The Queen Bee
The honeybee (Apis mellzfera), whose enthusiasm for its craft W is matched only by the enthusiasm humans have for eating the amber-colored confection it produces, follows the hard—and rules of pheromones as it labors in the hive.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Alexander is a blogger who studies pheromones.