Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 16, Issue 7, pp 2107–2120 | Cite as

Volatile compounds from excreta of laboratory mice (Mus musculus)

Preliminary examination of composition and effects on behavior
  • B. S. Goodrich
  • S. Gambale
  • Pamela R. Penncuik
  • T. D. Redhead


Volatile components of all the excretory products deposited by house mice may contribute to their ability to identify their own territories. When mice were placed on a clean surface, they deposited feces, secretions discharged from the anus (anal secretion) and urine. Exposure to several clean surfaces in succession caused a decline in the number of fecal pellets and urine spots deposited and an increase in the number of anal smears. The volatile compounds emanating from feces and anal secretion appeared to be qualitatively and quantitatively different from those emanating from urine, but many compounds with short retention times appeared to be common to feces and anal secretion. Introducing volatiles from feces of strange males into the territory of a singly housed male altered the site at which the resident animal deposited its feces but had no effect on the site at which it urinated. Introducing the feces or the anal secretion of a male mouse into the environment where it encountered a strange conspecific appeared to improve its success in encounters with a conspecific. It was concluded that at least some of the volatile compounds that enable mice to distinguish their own territory from those of neighboring groups may be derived from feces and that many fecal volatiles may originate from the secretions of glands opening into the digestive tract.

Key words

Mouse Mus musculus feces urine volatile constituents gas chromatography behavior 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Archer, J. 1975. Rodent sex differences in emotional and related behavior.Behav. Biol. 14:451- 479.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown, R.E. 1985. The rodents II: suborder Myomorpha, pp. 345–457,in R.E. Brown and D.W. Macdonald (eds.). Social Odours in Mammals, Vol. 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  3. Cox, T.P. 1984. Ethological isolation between local populations of house mice (Mus musculus) based on olfaction.Anim. Behav. 32:1068–1077.Google Scholar
  4. Crowcroft, P. 1955. Territoriality in wild house mice,Mus musculus, J. Mammal. 36:299–301.Google Scholar
  5. Crowcroft, P., andRowe, F.P. 1963. Social organization and territorial behaviour in the wild house mouse (Mus musculus L.).Proc Zool. Soc. London 140:517–531.Google Scholar
  6. Desjardins, C., Maruniak, J.A., andBronson, F.H. 1973. Social rank in house mice: Differentiation revealed by ultraviolet visualization of urinary marking patterns.Science 182:939- 941.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Feigl, F. 1966. Spot Tests in Organic Analysis, 7th ed. Elsevier Scientific, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  8. Goodrich, B.S., Hesterman, E.R., Murray, K.E., Mykytowycz, R., Stanley, G., andSugowdz, G. 1978. Identification of behaviorally significant compounds in the anal gland of the rabbit,Oryctolagus cuniculus.J. Chem. Ecol. 4:581–594.Google Scholar
  9. Goodrich, B.S., Hesterman, E.R., Shaw, K.S., andMykytowycz, R. 1981. Identification of some volatile compounds in the odor of fecal pellets of rabbit,Oryctolagus cuniculus.J. Chem Ecol. 7:813–823.Google Scholar
  10. Goodrich, B.S., Gambale, S., Pennycuik, P.R. andRedhead, T.D. 1990. Volatiles from feces of wild male house mice: Chemistry and effects on behavior and heart rate.J. Chem. Ecol. 16:2091–2106.Google Scholar
  11. Harrington, I.E. 1976. Recognition of territorial boundaries by olfactory cues in mice (Mus musculus L.)Z. Tierpsychol. 41:295–306.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Hurst, J.L. 1987. The function of urine marking in a free-living population of house mice,Mus domesticus Rutty.Anim. Behav. 35:1433–1442.Google Scholar
  13. Jones, R.B., andNowell, N.W. 1973a. The effect of urine on the investigatory behavior of male albino mice.Physiol. Behav. 11:35–38.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Jones, R.B., andNowell, N.W. 1973b. Aversion and aggression-promoting properties of urine from dominant and subordinate male mice.Anim. Learn. Behav. 1:207–210.Google Scholar
  15. Jones, R.B., andNowell, N.W. 1977. Aversive potency of male mouse urine: A temporal study.Behav. Biol. 19:523–526.Google Scholar
  16. Mackintosh, J.H. 1973. Factors affecting the recognition of territorial boundaries by mice (Mus musculus).Anim. Behav. 21:464–470.Google Scholar
  17. Mackintosh, J.H., andGrant, E.C. 1966. The effect of olfactory stimuli on the agonistic behaviour of laboratory mice.Z. Tierpsychol. 23:584–587.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Mugford, R.A., andNowell, N.W. 1970. Pheromones and their effect on aggression in mice.Nature 226:967–968.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Pennycuik, P.R. 1973. Behaviour of mice housed in groups at 4, 21 and 33°C.Aust. J. Biol. Sci. 26:917–926.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Reimer, J.D., andPetras, M.L. 1967. Breeding structure of the house mouse,Mus musculus, in population cage.J. Mammal. 48:88–99.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Schwende, F.J., Wiesler, D., Jorgenson, J.W., Carmack, M., andNovotny, M. 1986. Urinary volatile constituents of the house mouse,Mus musculus, and their endocrine dependency.J. Chem. Ecol. 12:277–296.Google Scholar
  22. Singleton, G.R., andHay, D.A. 1983. The effect of social organization on reproductive success and gene flow in colonies of wild house mice,Mus musculus, Behav.Ecol. Sociobiol. 12:49- 56.Google Scholar
  23. Welch, J.F. 1953. Formation of urinating “posts” by house mice (Mus) held under restricted conditions.J. Mammal. 34:502–503.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. S. Goodrich
    • 1
  • S. Gambale
    • 2
  • Pamela R. Penncuik
    • 1
  • T. D. Redhead
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Wildlife and EcologyCSIRONorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Wildlife and EcologyCSIROLynehamAustralia

Personalised recommendations