DURHAM, N.C. -- The strength of a lemur couple's bond is reflected by the similarity of their scents, finds a new study.
"It's like singing a duet, but with smells instead of sounds," said Christine Drea, a Duke University professor who supervised the study.
Duke researchers sampled and analyzed scent secretions produced by lemurs known as Coquerel's sifakas living at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC. The researchers also monitored the animals' scent-marking and sniffing behavior across the breeding season.
They found that lemur lovers mirror each other's scent-marking behavior, and that lemur couples with kids give off similar scents -- possibly as a way to combine territory defenses or to advertise their relationship status to the rest of their group, the researchers say.
The lemurs spend the most time scent-marking and investigating each other's odors before they have kids. After they reproduce, they smell more like each other.
The findings appear in the February 2014 edition of Animal Behaviour.
Coquerel's sifakas are white-furred lemurs with chocolate-brown patches on their chests, arms and legs. They have glands on their throats and genital areas that produce a sticky goo that is dabbed on branches and tree trunks as the animals move through the forest.
To collect the data, the researchers used cotton swabs to sample scent secretions from the genital regions of eight males and seven females across different phases of the reproductive season.
Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry tests to identify the chemical ingredients in each animal's unique aroma showed that sifaka scent secretions from the genital area alone contain more than 250 odor compounds.
The researchers also followed the behavior of six pairs of potential mates, measuring how often the animals smeared their scents on their surroundings -- a behavior known as scent-marking -- as well as how often
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