• How Does Injury Affect Primates' Scent Signalling? — Chromatography Explores


How Does Injury Affect Primates' Scent Signalling? — Chromatography Explores

Jul 17 2018

Animal signalling — including human signalling — is key to how we communicate. As humans we are all conscious of the audible and visual signals that emanate from our co-workers, friends and lovers. Animals are no different in that they also communicate with their neighbours and mates using visual and audible signals. But animals also rely on chemical signals in a way that as humans we don’t seem to rely on and use.

A recent paper published in the journal Scientific Reports — Costs of injury for scent signalling in a strepsirrhine primate — investigates how lemurs can use chemical signals to detect weaknesses due to injury in their fellow lemurs. Literally smelling a weakness in a potential love rival.

Can chromatography detect the fear?

Animals use signals for all kinds of reasons — just like us humans. Social behaviour, choosing a mate and squaring up to the playground bully are all situations when we need to communicate our true feelings. And being able to communicate our condition can be equally important in some situations. Olfactory signals are produced as a signal to alert other animals about danger, mating possibilities and it seems also how healthy an animal is.

The team from Duke university in North Carolina analysed the natural scents produced by lemurs using gas chromatography — and the odour signals could give fellow lemurs a signal as to how fit and strong a fellow lemur actually is. Chromatography is a powerful analytical technique that can separate a sample into its various components. Analysing the peaks produced by the separation is a key part of the process as discussed in the article, How to Determine Extra Column Dispersion and Extra Column Volume.

Body odour — not just humans who can smell fear

Lemurs release odours from scent glands on their genitals. The secretions they leave behind on leaves and twigs indicate to other lemurs who was there and whether they are ready to mate. The secretions are made from hundreds of different molecules — and are rather smelly.

The team collected the secretions from 23 different lemurs in the Duke Lemur Center over a nine-year period from both healthy and injured lemurs. When the secretions were analysed by GC-MS, the team found differences in the chemical make-up of the secretions between healthy and ill or injured lemurs. It was noticed that the lemurs’ musk was particularly muted during the breeding season.

In a press release from Duke University, the researchers think that ‘the lemurs may be using scent to detect changes in their competitors’ fighting ability, and act more aggressive when they smell weakness.’ One researcher said: ‘These animals constantly monitor the physical condition of their competitors and respond quickly to any opportunity to climb the social ladder.

So really, just like human males on a Friday night binge.

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