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