Thursday, 5 November 2015

Body odor sets female rhesus monkeys apart

Rhesus macaques use their sense of smell to identify members of different social groups and to confirm hierarchy

Date: November 2, 2015
Source: Springer

Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) make use of their sense of smell to distinguish between members of their own and other social groups, according to new research, led by Stefanie Henkel (University of Leipzig, Germany), published in Springer's journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Social animals use their olfactory ability to distinguish between members of their own species. This generally helps them defend their territories, or to find sleeping sites or mating partners better. Primates, especially Old World monkeys and apes, are said to have a poor sense of smell, but researchers are now starting to realize that olfaction in these animals may play a greater role in their social lives than previously thought.

In contrast to previous studies on olfaction, the present study used a species which does not have any distinct scent glands and does not perform scent marking typical for olfactory communication among conspecifics. To investigate the role of smell in rhesus macaques, Henkel et al. conducted a study on the island Cayo Santiago in Puerto Rico (USA) during the non-mating season. The experiment was designed to explore whether the monkeys can discriminate between body odors of female group members and those of females from different social groups. Body odor samples collected from 33 adult females were placed in individual aerated metal containers. The researchers presented these odor samples to 74 unrelated conspecifics, as identified from extensive pedigree data available for this population, and observed their behavioral response.

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