Lemurs Are Masters of 'Stink Flirting'

Males secrete a natural scent, possibly the first sex pheromone found in a primate
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2020 12:11 PM CDT
Sexy Male Lemurs Have Natural Perfume
A ring-tailed lemur.   (Getty/Tom Meaker)

The act of dabbing fragrance on your wrist in the hope of attracting a potential partner isn't strictly human, apparently. Ring-tailed lemurs attract mates in much the same way, only naturally, according to Japanese researchers, reports the Guardian. The lemurs have scent glands on their wrists and shoulders, used in determining social rank and reproductive status. But researchers guessed the glands were also used for "sexual communication," per a release. They therefore analyzed the "floral and fruity" secretions of four captive male lemurs, finding higher concentrations of the three major chemical components during breeding seasons. While they say it's too early to know if the components are indeed sex pheromones, one of the three, tetradecanal, is a known sex pheromone in certain insects. This would be the first such discovery in primates.

Together with tetradecanal, the other components, dodecanal and 12-methyltridecanal, are thought to be involved "in the recognition of newborn sheep by their mothers," says study author Kazushige Touhara. Male lemurs rub the secretions on their tails, which they wave at females in an act known as "stink flirting." In the study, females responded by sniffing the "sweet" scent markings left by the males more often and for a few seconds longer than they sniffed male scents produced outside breeding season, per CNN. The latter scents are more bitter. Some sexually receptive females even licked the marks, according to the study in Current Biology. "We think these pheromones are signals of male strength or dominance because the more testosterone is produced the more these odors are produced," Touhara says. (More discoveries stories.)

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