Friday, 16 June 2017

Microbes give meerkat gangs their signature scents

Their musky odor comes from the action of bacteria

Date: June 12, 2017
Source: Duke University

Body odor. To some it's an embarrassing nuisance. But to meerkats, it's a calling card.

These sociable South African members of the mongoose family produce a pungent "paste" in a pouch beneath their tails that they smear on plants, rocks and even other meerkats to mark their turf. With one whiff they can tell if a scent belongs to a relative, a rival or a potential mate.

But the chemical signals in this stinky graffiti don't come from the meerkats themselves, researchers report. They're made by odor-producing bacteria that thrive in the meerkats' gooey secretions.

Lots of animals, from insects to humans, give off distinctive scents that help them distinguish each other and find and choose mates, said study co-author Christine Drea, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. "The question is: how did they get it?" Drea said. Are their unique body odors genetically inherited, picked up from the environment, or do they come from somewhere else?

In a study to be published June 12 in the journal Scientific Reports, Drea, lead author Sarah Leclaire and colleagues swabbed the scent pouches of roughly three dozen wild meerkats living among the grassy dunes of the Kuruman River Reserve in South Africa's Kalahari Desert.

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