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The Pheromone Odors Used By Animals

The pheromone odors used by animals to demarcate their own space may come from various sources — urine, feces, saliva and most importantly from special odor-producing skin glands, the secretions...

The pheromone odors used by animals to demarcate their own space may come from various sources — urine, feces, saliva and most importantly from special odor-producing skin glands, the secretions from which may increase the communicative power of feces and saliva (Hediger 1949; Mykytowycz 1970, 1972).

In the rabbit, there are two externally secreting skin pheromones glands which seem to function for territorial purposes: the submandibular and the anal glands. Together with the inguinal gland, which also functions in the rabbit for behavioral purposes, these glands have been the subject of a series of ethological, histological, and chemical investigations (Mykytowycz 1965, 1966a, b; Goodrich and Mykytowycz 1972). The secretion from the submandibular gland is applied precisely to various objects when a rabbit touches its chin to them. The scent from the anal gland coats the hard fecal pellets as they pass through the end portion of the rectum; the characteristic ‘rabbity’ smell of feces comes from the secretion of this gland. Feces in the rabbit, as in many other species of vertebrates, are used for communicative, purpose. Dung-hills — special sites in the rabbits’ pheromone range on which feces are regularly deposited ~ are important objects in the territorial behavior of the species (Mykytowycz and Gambale 1969).

There is a close correlation between the degree of pheromone development and the secretory activity of the odor-producing skin glands, and the social position of individuals, particularly their involvement in marking and defense of the social space. Thus male rabbits generally, and dominant ones in particular, possess the largest glands. The dominant females, however, which are also strongly territorial, may have glands just as large as non-dominant males (Mykytowycz and Dudzinski 1966) according to

The chemical composition of the skin glands of rabbits has been analysed using gas-chromatography, thin-layer chromatography, and electrophoresis. Differences occur in the composition of secretions from the separate types of glands and there may be variations related to sex and individual within the same type of gland. The secretion from the chin glands contains protein components as well as carbohydrate. The anal gland secretion contains protein as well as lipid — both free and protein-bound. The free lipid, with a ‘rabbity’ pheromone odor, accounts for approximately one percent of the total secretion. It is composed mostly of hydrocarbon together with an as yet unidentied component which has a mobility on thin-layer chromatography similar to aliphatic esters (Goodrich and Mykytowycz 1972).

Specific odor of the space occupied by a given species

In earlier discussions of social spacing attention has usually been paid to the repel- ling force of markings. However, it is not always in the interest of individual animals or of the species as a whole that conspecics pheromones should be kept apart. Each species possesses a specific social distanceFind Article, i.e. the maximum distance between individuals of any group. On this basis Hediger (1955) differentiates between ‘contact animals’ and ‘distance animals’. The ‘contact animals’ are mainly gregarious species. Gregariousness of the wild rabbit has been dealt with elsewhere (Mykytowycz and Fullagar 1973) and it has been emphasized that basically there is no tendency to disperse even in the presence of ample space.

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Alexander P is a blogger that studies pheromones. He is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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