Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 5, pp 437–445

The neglected scent: on the marking function of urine in Lemur catta


    • Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del TerritorioUniversità di Pisa
  • L. Dapporto
    • Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del TerritorioUniversità di Pisa
  • S. Borgognini Tarli
    • Dipartimento di Etologia, Ecologia ed EvoluzioneUnità di Antropologia, Università di Pisa 11
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-005-0963-1

Cite this article as:
Palagi, E., Dapporto, L. & Borgognini Tarli, S. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2005) 58: 437. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0963-1


In ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) urine deposition can be combined with two different tail configurations: (i) tail held up in an evident display (urinate tail-up, UT-up); (ii) tail slightly raised to avoid its impregnation with urine (urinate tail-down, UT-down). We used both signaller- and receiver-based approaches to search for functional differences between these two kinds of urine deposition. We predicted that UT-up might be a complex signal combining olfactory and visual cues. We carried out observations and scent tests on four captive groups of ring-tailed lemurs. Group members sniffed/licked UT-up scents more frequently than UT-down ones. Moreover, UT-up showed peak levels during the mating season whereas UT-down did not. These findings suggest that urine can play a role in intra-group reproductive communication. Lemurs more frequently performed UT-up in a few drops and UT-down in streams. Recognition experiments clearly showed that individuals can discriminate between urine of their own group and urine from a foreign group (a necessary prerequisite for the use of urine in inter-group communication). The possible function of UT-up in inter-troop communication was supported by the higher frequency of this pattern along a fence separating two of the study groups. Moreover, in the presence of a dummy, the frequency of UT-up increased significantly. In conclusion, UT-up is a complex signal with multiple characteristics. By using different sensory channels, UT-up provides different types of information (location and signaller quality) and contains multiple messages directed both at group-members and neighbouring groups.


Complex signalInter-group communicationIntra-group communicationLemur cattaUrine marking

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005