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Primate's scent speaks volumes about who he is
Date:6/23/2008

DURHAM, N.C. -- Perhaps judging a man by his cologne isn't as superficial as it seems.

Duke University researchers, using sophisticated machinery to analyze hundreds of chemical components in a ringtailed lemur's distinctive scent, have found that individual males are not only advertising their fitness for fatherhood, but also a bit about their family tree as well.

"We now know that there's information about genetic quality and relatedness in scent," said Christine Drea, a Duke associate professor of biological anthropology and biology. The male's scent can reflect his mixture of genes, and to which animals he's most closely related. "It's an honest indicator of individual quality that both sexes can recognize," she said.

Lemurs, distant primate cousins of ours who split from the family tree before the monkeys and apes parted ways, have a complex and elaborate scent language that until recently was completely undiscovered by humans. Drea said it's language that is undoubtedly richer than we can imagine.

"All lemurs make use of scent," she said. "The diversity of glands is just amazing."

Ringtailed males have scent glands on their genitals, shoulders and wrists, each of which makes different scents. Other lemur species also have glands on their heads, chests and hands. Add to these scents the signals that can be conveyed in feces and urine, and there's a lot of silent, cryptic communication going on in lemur society.

Wearing a scent-based nametag declaring one's genetics is probably useful in avoiding aggression with closely related males, Drea said. It's also quite likely to help prevent inbreeding by signaling family relationships to females, but the research to prove that is still ongoing.

For this study, Drea and postdoctoral fellows Marie Charpentier and Marylne Boulet focused solely on male ringtailed lemurs living at the Duke Lemur Center (http://lemur.
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Contact: Karl Leif Bates
karl.bates@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

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